Rachel Rossano lives with her husband and three children in the northeastern part of the United States. Homeschooled through high school, she began writing her early teens. She didn’t become serious about pursuing a career as an author until after she had graduated from college and happily married. Then the children came.
Now she spends her days being a wife, mother, teacher, and household manager. Her evenings and free moments are devoted to her other loves, writing and book cover design. Drawing on a lifelong fascination with reading and history, she spends hours creating historical feeling fantasy worlds and populating them with characters who live and breathe on the page.
New roles. New rules. No margin for error.
Zezilia Ilar joins the sept son’s entourage as a defender. Her growing Talent ability makes her a target for the Elitists, and her gender makes people question her competence. She must protect the sept son. Any mistake could be fatal.
Hadrian Aleron always knew his beliefs would cause trouble, but he didn’t realize how much. Rebels are rising. He could lose his title, his position, and if he’s not careful, his life. As the assassination attempts grow bolder, Hadrian must rely upon his young defender and their shared faith in the Almighty to keep him from faltering.
Accusing eyes and a wave of hatred and confusion followed us out the doors of the dining hall. I wanted to put up a stronger shield around Hadrian, but no amount of energy was going to block out the spite behind us. It helped that Hadrian was leading us down the corridor at a pace that kept me trotting to keep up. The farther we were away from that crowd, the better.
“Where may I have an hour in private?” Hadrian sent. I was so distracted by the emotion behind us that for a moment I thought he was asking me. Then my brother replied.
Taking a sharp left, Hadrian flung open the next set of double doors and swept into one of the side rooms off the main corridor. With quick orders from Renato, two defenders took up stations on either side of the doors while the remaining four followed us into the room and closed the doors behind us.
“Guard the windows from the outside,” Renato ordered. I heard them obey, but I didn’t see them because my attention was taken up with watching Hadrian.
He had crossed directly to the far wall of the room and sagged against it. His wide shoulders sloped and his head fell forward as though it was too heavy for him to lift. This alone would have concerned me, but the storm of pain, fear, anger, and frustration that warred within him was what tore a cry of help to the Almighty from my heart.
Almighty, help him. Give me wisdom. What can I do to ease his pain? Please, God, give him peace.
“Hadrian?” Renato’s panicked query brought Hadrian eyes to him. “You didn’t eat any of the fruit, right? Do you need a healer?” My brother stepped forward into the sept son’s personal space. “What is wrong?”
Hadrian raised a hand wearily and pushed him back. “I am fine, Renato. Now go fetch Korneli. I have time for him now.”
“Answer my question first.”
Hadrian merely shook his head. “No, I didn’t eat. I am not going to die, Renato. At least, not at this moment. Now go.”
Nodding, Renato turned to me. “Come. Korneli is…”
“No, she stays here.” Both of us turned to regard the sept son. Hadrian had not moved.
“But, Master, you said I was to never leave you and her alone.”
“Send in Plantonio when you leave. He will act as witness. Now go get Korneli before I throw you out.”
“Yes, Master.” Executing a sharp salute, he walked toward the door, sending me a warning look as he passed.
Hadrian did not move as Plantonio appeared, saluted, and then took station near the door. I watched Hadrian carefully, monitoring the emotions that kept flaring from him. Without the life of his dark eyes, his face appeared years older than I knew him to be. Feathered lines radiated from his closed eyes and deep crevices bracketed his mouth. The dark circles under his eyes spoke of hours of lost sleep. A flare of anger distracted me from his face for a moment as I stepped back from the intensity. His eyes flew open and immediately focused on my face.
“How did you know?” he asked. Slowly lifting his head and straightening, he crossed to the nearest chair and sank into it.
“How did you know it was poisoned?”
“He intended to kill you.”
“But how did you know? Did you read his thoughts?”
Fear flooded through me. The servant hadn’t been a Talent. To read his thoughts would be worthy of grave punishment. “No, he was projecting the emotions of a man afraid of getting caught. When I saw him exchange the dishes, I knew why.”
He closed his eyes and laid his head against the chair back. Pain washed over me as his forehead tightened.
“Headache?” I asked before thinking.
He smiled bitterly. “The cost of stress and tension.”
“Where does it hurt?”
He sighed wearily. “Are you sure you want details?” He opened one dark brown eye and squinted at me.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Hadrian closed his eye. “Yes. Come and sit in the chair across from me, so I don’t have to keep looking up at you.”
I quickly moved to obey, carefully stepping over his sprawled legs to reach the chair. “Does this often happen, Sept Son?”
“What?” He lifted a hand to massage his forehead. “The headaches?”
“No, the attempts on your life.”
“More often than I would like. I haven’t had this close a brush in a while.”
“Who wants you dead?”
He looked at me from beneath the shade of his hand. “The better question is who doesn’t want me dead, Zez. The mesitas, half the kings, and most of the worshipers of the goddess wish me out of the picture permanently.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew without a doubt that my father was one of the group that wished Hadrian ill. What words does one offer a man who has recently faced death?
“I don’t hold it against you, Zez. Your father’s position has not affected my trust in you or Renato. In fact, Renato’s closeness to me has limited some of the attacks because Ilar doesn’t want to harm his son.” He paused for a few moments. “I am sorry to bring you into the midst of this. This isn’t the place for you.”
I shook my head. He was wrong. “This is where I am supposed to be. If I hadn’t been here, the Almighty wouldn’t have used me to prevent your death.” I shuddered slightly at the thought. “I am the most qualified in many ways, and you are going to teach me so that I can grow even more skilled. He has a purpose for me here.”
He laughed softly. “I can’t argue with that. His purpose is the only thing that keeps me here. Though, I fear at times, Zez, that I am not going to survive this. Each time I face my mortality, I wonder what the Almighty has in store. All it would take is one moment when He decides not to show me grace and stop the assassin’s hand. One time and all I have worked for would be gone.”
“He has promised that what He has purposed will come to pass.” I quoted one of my favorite passages of the Revelation to him. “I shall pray that He will continue to spare you.”
Lowering his hand, Hadrian looked at me and smiled slowly. “Thank you, Zez. Your prayers will guard my soul while your Talent will guard my body. I will do the same for you and, Almighty willing, we shall survive. If not, at least we shall be at peace.” Then he quoted another favorite passage of mine. It spoke of the instantaneous transformation at death when a believer steps from his own body into the presence of the Almighty.