Home > Bared (Honor Bound #11)

Bared (Honor Bound #11)
Author: ANGEL PAYNE

 

Chapter One

 

 

The truth.

It bared so much.

Joyous things. Beautiful things.

But sometimes—many times—too many things.

Dark corners. Buried secrets. Exposures that altered lives.

Princess Jayd Cimarron was trying to weigh which side of the truth had done just that to her world. As she stood on the veranda outside her big brother’s royal receiving room, looking over the Mediterranean waves below, she might as well have been looking into a bottomless abyss—called the rest of her life. She did not jump there yet, but was preparing to. It was likely a given, based on the revelation that had blown her world apart in the last twenty-four hours.

But the dread was weirdly comforting. An affirmation of sorts, matching so many of the feelings that had lurked in her belly for as long as she could remember. The constant thunder clouds in her psyche despite the bright sunshine defining most days on the island of Arcadia, this one included.

The knowledge—the uncanny certainty—that this day would come.

That she would be standing on this very balcony, watching as a pair of men strolled in and faced Evrest with vindictive glee.

Trystan Carris was the polished protégé of Fortin Santelle, down to his slicked hair, dark suit, and mafia-movie stance. Oh yes, despite the balmy temperature of this June day, both men looked ready for a scene in some violent spy thriller. But they matched only up to the neck. Where Fortin’s face was set in pure business neutrality, Trystan wore a smirk empowered by the familiarity of knowing his king since their grade school days.

Times that were long gone.

Evrest was now His Majesty King Evrest of Arcadia, determined to guide his kingdom into a modernized era—and Trystan Carris was a member of the movement determined to stop him. Never mind that the Pura, their island’s version of a radical fundamentalist sect, had suffered more setbacks than successes during their tumultuous history. Apparently, literally naming themselves the Latin word for pure was their self-written invitation to take the dirtiest advantages whenever luck and opportunity collided in their favor.

Collisions like this one.

Fate had definitely delivered all the luck on a giant platter. The aligning stars that resulted in the “reliably sourced information” the men presented to Evrest just twenty-four hours ago. Their upper hand was so significant that they had room for benevolence, granting their king the night for reviewing copies of their incriminating documents before delivering their demands for keeping quiet about them.

Thankfully, Evrest had not been prideful about seizing the offer. He closeted himself in that office, reading the documents well past midnight.

Jayd had not let the hours go wasted either. If today’s meeting went down as she anticipated—as she feared—she would have to pull the proverbial trigger on her own response plan.

From the moment Carris stepped forward, her trigger finger began to itch.

A small comfort came as Requiemme emerged from a side door, joining her on the veranda, confirming she was not alone in the instinct. Despite the golden glory of the afternoon, her lady’s maid shivered before muttering, “Why is it little surprise that the monsters are right on time?”

Jayd looped an elbow with her friend but did not reply. Emme’s accusation was comforting but not necessarily true. Santelle and Carris were not monsters. They were just men. Arcadian men. Which meant they were also proud, stubborn, determined, and dogged—to the point of turning into fanatics.

Which also meant that they had not given up on digging deep for one specific truth. The fact she had always sensed. Perhaps had always known. And was now validated by the Pura’s physical evidence.

She was not the true Princess of Arcadia Island.

And not even her brother, a monarch who’d been named after a mountain, could move this one.

She knew that already too. Worse, she sensed the same comprehension had sunk into Ev. She saw it in her brother’s bloodshot eyes and furrowed forehead. She followed it in the tense finger he rubbed along his bottom lip. And yes, she felt it in every awful clench of her chest.

Her brother, who topped every internet search for sexiest royals, was currently a train wreck. He’d been ruling the island for almost four years now, but he was a brand-new husband and father. Those were extra loads in and of themselves without having to deal with this new challenge from the Pura bastards.

“Highness!” Requiemme’s scandalized gasp confirmed how she had let the profanity slip out. But mustering a shred of remorse for it was impossible.

“What?” Jayd retorted. “You would prefer I state the truth? That they are filthy kimfuks? Is that better?”

“Highness.”

“Let me have the fun, Emme.” She freed a long sigh. “It may be my last for a while.”

“Bah.” The woman flung her glare toward the glistening aqua waters just below the terrace. “These two will not have a leg to stand on after His Majesty is done with them and these silly allegations, especially right now. The world is in love with your brother, his queen, and their fine, beautiful new prince.”

More aches up and down her throat, as a heavy swallow made its way down. “All the world’s adoration cannot help my brother fight the truth.”

“Bah,” the woman spat again. “You cannot honestly believe that—”

Jayd cut her off with a raised hand. She lowered it into a tense fist at her middle while watching Santelle and Carris move in, taking up imposing stances before Evrest’s regal oak desk. That was when she noticed the subtle differences in their style between yesterday and today. Their pristine suits and shiny boots were enhanced by small touches. Their ties were more costly. Their lapels were embellished with Arcadian flag pins. Their formidable features seemed…smoother. Were they wearing makeup?

“By the Creator,” she rasped, concluding that they were—and why. They were expecting Evrest to be making some kind of public announcement. The recognition would have panicked her at once except that her brother looked more ready for a shower and a three-day nap. He wore black slacks and a wrinkled button-front shirt, with one shoulder dotted in baby drool. His shoulder-length waves were contained at his nape beneath a scrunchie printed with baby tigers.

“Bon sonar, gentlemen,” Evrest greeted, taking command of the conversation at once. That was also Jayd’s cue to return inside.

She stepped into the space just over her brother’s left shoulder, with Requiemme taking position behind her. As Santelle and Carris dipped quick bows to Ev, she yearned to smack their smug faces. Her nerves were soothed somewhat by Emme’s squeeze at her elbow. How the woman could convey calm and chastisement in the same move was truly a mystery to Jayd, though right now, it was bested by a more dominant dilemma.

How—and why—had the secret of her true lineage been kept such a tight secret for twenty-four years? Kept from all the Arcadian people? From her brothers? From her?

That question, along with a thousand others, had taken over the real estate in her mind since last night—though she had not dared utter any of them aloud. Truth be known, she did not have the courage. An admission that led swiftly to shame. She was Jayd Dawne Cimarron, damn it. She had always held her own against three daunting brothers with guts and grit and tenacity, but now she had to accept that it might have all been for nothing. That she was not actually “the sass of the Cimarrons.” That she was the princess of nothing at all.

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