Okay, welcome back – now we’re getting into moving the story forward!
Like I said, the first chapter in a book in a series is always rough; there’s always exposition and explanation of all the things the author can’t assume that a new reader will know. This is especially true later in a series; while you can gloss over some events, there are simply more and more people. And, if some of the people in the previous book aren’t going to show up in this one, well, you have to explain THAT, too.
Anyhow, here we go. A little bit of reflection, but mostly moving forward.
If you like what I’m writing, you can pick up another one of my books – or if you don’t know this universe, you can go back and pick up one of John’s. I’ll put buttons right below this paragraph so you can go there and come back. But you gotta come back!
“I am the Kildaran, and I have come to claim my rights,” the woman repeated.
“I am the Kildaran, and -”
“Dammit, Katrina, I said no!” Mike winced. He had thought, no, hoped, the issue had been settled. Katrina, of the Family Devlich, had been the first Keldara Mike ever met, and she had quickly decided she was destined to be the woman of the Kildar, called the Kildaran. Perhaps the most unusual of the Keldara girls, she was fiercely intelligent, as stubborn as the Georgian winter was long, and, oh yeah, absolutely incredible looking. Possessed of fiery red hair and a temper to match, she also had blue eyes that seemed to pierce him, long legs, and a figure that no man would think of resisting. Mike had hoped she had finally come to her senses about being Kildaran. It had been months she had last mentioned it.
Katrina’s eyes flashed. “And I say yes!”
“Katrina, you know why you can’t become -”
“I do NOT! You said I was too young. I have waited until I am ‘old enough,’ older than any of your harem you have broached! I have fought for you; I am a warrior of the Keldara now.”
“I have learned from Mother Lenka the secrets of her brew. Everyone knows that I am to be her heir. I have learned from her, too, the secrets of the Goddess. In this, too, I am to be her heir. I have been learning here, from Anastasia -”
Mike nodded, somewhat grudgingly. Anastasia Rakovich, his harem manager, had mentioned that Katrina had been taking instruction with the harem girls. Not surprisingly, she absorbed the basics quickly and had moved on, taking college courses online. At last report, Katrina was about ready to earn a Bachelor’s in – what did Anastasia say? He couldn’t quite remember.
“And she has taught me more than that. She has given me the classes that she gives – gave – the Kardane girls. So if you think I will be clumsy in bed, or unwilling -.”
“I don’t think of you in bed.” Seeing the fury rising on her face, Mike gestured to a chair. “Please, Katrina, let me explain. Sit.” Reluctantly she did so.
“You know some of my past.”
“I know you were a SEAL before you came to be the Kildar.”
“Do you know why I was traveling?”
“Not really. Nobody in the teams will talk about it, if they know.”
“They don’t. Besides Chief Adams, nobody in the Valley knows the whole story.” Well, almost nobody, he thought. He was pretty sure Greznya Vanner had pieced together most of his past, but she was the best of the Keldaran intelligence operators, and she hadn’t talked. J probably knew, or suspected, most of it as well.
“And he only knows because he was there for some of it.”
“So tell me. If this is why you refuse me, you cannot deny me the explanation.”
What to tell her?
“Before I came to the Valley, I had another name, another life. I was a retired SEAL, taking some classes -” He went on for several minutes, telling her of his rescue of the college co-eds, the killing of Bin Laden and the Syrian President, the nuclear bombs in the Bahamas and in Paris, and how he had to change his name, bury his past.
“Every jihadist group on the planet wants me dead, preferably slowly. I had to start over, here. The teams, the training, are as much to protect me as to defend the Valley from the Chechens.” He was somewhat disconcerted to see a smile cross her face.
“Kildar, your story is better-known than you think. Oh, not the details, but many of us know that you did brave deeds and were forced to forget your past when you came here.” She turned serious. “But how does this make me unfit to be the Kildaran?”
He shook his head. “It’s not that you are unfit. Frankly, you probably suit me better than any other Keldara.” The smile was back, full radiance.
“But I can’t risk bringing someone I love into this life, risk losing them to people who are hunting me.” A shadow crossed his face. The Keldara practiced the Rite of Kardane; basically, droit de seigneur in return for a dowry. The last girl to participate, before Mike stopped the Rite, had stolen Mike’s heart. Totally unexpected, he had battled with his feelings and his obligations for weeks before the matter was settled permanently with Gretchen’s death in battle. It had been months before he had even begun to recover. He shook it off. “I can’t risk having someone I love be in a position to become a hostage to those people.”
Not exactly the reaction he expected.
“First, Kildar, what of the children of the Rite? Could they not be hostages?”
Mike shook his head. “Not really. Nobody outside the Valley knows that they’re my kids, so they have no special value. Plus, they’re here in the Valley. I don’t think that anyone is going to try to get them from here -”
“Again, Ha! You say yourself that this valley is safe!”
“For anonymous little kids, yes. How anonymous do you think you’d be as the wife of the Kildar?”
“I do not wish to be anonymous! I will be proud to be your wife!” Now Katrina let her voice soften. “You know that this should be. You know you want it to be. I can feel it whenever we talk – which is not so much anymore!”
Mike nodded ruefully. “Yeah, I have been kinda avoiding you.”
“No longer! Daria has been working with me, too, training me on her job as your administrative assistant.” She stumbled just a bit over the words. “Did you know that Daria is planning to leave?”
This was a surprise. “No.”
“She has not talked about it, but she is lonely for her home. She wishes to go back. She is not so old that she cannot begin again.” Daria was maybe 24, but in this culture that was waaaay into old-maid-dom.
“Katrina, I understand, but my answer is still -”
“You have no choice,” she interrupted. She played her trump card.
“I have consulted the Elders. It is time, and past time, for you to take your wife from the Keldara. They agree that I am best for you.” She tried to look stern, but the twinkle in her eyes gave her away. “They will brook no argument on this, Kildar.”
Mike had been many things in his life. SEAL team member, instructor, husband, college student, and now free agent troubleshooter for the US government. But he had never been stupid. So, when faced with the inevitable: stall.
“The Elders are behind this?”
She shook her head. “No. But they agree.”
“I can’t believe this, but – Let me consult with the Elders about what happens next, and then -”
He was cut off by a very girlish squeal as Katrina practically leapt over his desk, landing solidly on his lap and clinging to him.
“Oh, Mike!” Then there was no more time to talk, her very kissable lips pressed to his.
What the hell.