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Daughter of the Sun, Aumelan Book One, Chapter Eight. YA Dystopian Fantasy.
Daughter of the Sun

Aumelan series

Book one

Chapter Eight

Salana dipped her spoon into the pale-yellow sorbet. The mumble of conversation and clinks from utensils accompanied the string quartet playing in the distance. Her peripheral vision caught Ambassador Lowhan’s glare from across the embassy’s round dining table. His dark braided hair framed his oval face in a perfect square, a beard completing the style with a series of tight twists that tipped his collar.

         She took a bite of the dessert. It chilled the roof of her mouth as sweet lemon coated her tongue.

         The Ambassador blinked, his caramel features expressionless. “And Crescent Steeple?”

         Her gaze flew to his toffee-colored eyes, and she swore to herself as she lifted the linen napkin to her lips. How is it he always chooses to ask a question when I stuff something in my mouth?

         She swallowed the icy mass, and frost seeped through her chest. Tears welled in her eyes as she cleared her throat to dispel the bite.

         Thomey’s arm brushed hers as he patted her knee under the table. His blue gaze sparkled with understanding, and he winked, intensifying the creases at the corner of his eyes. “Ambassador Lowhan, I believe Crescent Steeple is the next stop on their agenda. Senator Goffin has always supported their fight for freedom. He’s not ignoring your plight.”

         Ambassador Lowhan leaned back in his chair, and his braids brushed at his shoulder. His gaze dropped to the medallion Salana wore. The three golden circles making up the emblem rested on top of her ceremonial sash and showed bright against the dark emerald material. “And his wife will be accompanying him?”

         Thomey set his elbow on the table. “Lady Celeste will accompany him, yes.”

         The Ambassador heaved a sigh. “Dr. Masterson, it’s been a pleasure sharing the dinner table with you.” He scooted his chair back, tugged at his yellow cummerbund as he stood, and then fastened the gold button on his black breast jacket. “Professor Rahés, High General Hilton.”

         Thomey leaned to Salana as the man turned away. “I think that went well,” he said in a low voice.

         She pinched her lips together and met his gaze.

         He tilted his head, and then set his arm around her shoulders. “Considering we just spent an hour and a half at the same table with someone so outspoken against the Terracians, it went very well, my dear.”

         General Hilton cleared his throat and tossed his napkin on his bowl of sorbet. The scar on the left side of his face stood out as he blew air from his pursed lips. “I never liked lemon. Love their raspberry.” Settling back into his seat, he laced his fingers over his waist. The three gold cufflinks on his burgundy sleeve matched the emblems on his collar and depicted the sun in full ray—a needless reminder of the position he held in the forces. “Khort tells me you’ll be attending Sun City University, Salana.”

         She nodded, thankful for the change in topic. “My first class is Ancient Civilizations with Professor Rahés.” She smiled at the muscular man to her right, and his onyx gaze shifted to her. His thin lips bent into a grin.

         General Hilton cocked his brow. “Electing not to use bodyguards could bring about unwanted attention.”

         Salana stifled a sneer. Here we go again. Even among colleagues, I can’t relax. She looked at the sunburst chandelier above them and then let her gaze drift to the others suspended from pale yellow stages on the ceiling. Don’t they understand I want real friends? Not a procession announcing my status.

         Thomey shifted as he lifted his drink to his lips, and her attention gravitated to him. She placed her hand on his thigh, and he smiled next to the rim of the glass. Well, at least I have Thomey…sometimes.

         “It’s the personal bodyguards that would draw unwanted attention,” she said as she looked at the military man. “High General Hilton, I have my reasons for attending the university as a common student.”

         “I’m sure you do, Miss Goffin. But as your family’s head of security, Khort is concerned. And as the National Security High General, so am I. You’re not a common student. You’re a Daughter of the Nation. Don’t live under the pretense you will blend in.” He motioned with his hand. “Your hair alone declares who you are. Everyone knows a Goffin woman’s hair is her crown.”

         Thomey brushed the intricate braids at the side of her face with the backs of his fingers and then combed them through the thick mane down her back. His arm traveled around her waist and he pulled her close, kissing the weaves.

         Salana replied in a firm tone, “I’m attending Sun City University as any other student would.”

         “I thought you might insist.” General Hilton’s gaze shifted to the professor as he spoke. “I’ve had your classes assigned to teachers I feel can be trusted. They’ve been briefed and select classmates with exceptional battlement skills will also attend those classes.”

         She couldn’t temper her shallow lour. “None of that would be necessary if I were allowed to train in battlement myself instead of tripping over ballet steps.”

         “Daughters and Ladies of the Nation are treasures to be protected, not handed a weapon and be expected to defend themselves. Every student I chose to watch over you—” He slanted his head toward her. “—from a distance, is exceptional. And each is willing to give their life, if need be, just as any soldier in our armies.”

         Heavens, give me a little freedom! She reached for her glass and drank a long gulp of water. Keeping her voice low, she murmured her dislike of the situation. “Give their life. Does it always have to encompass that?”

         General Hilton lowered his chin and folded his hands on the table. “Death is part of our civilization, Miss Goffin. We are at war on several fronts; have been with one territory or another for the last hundred years…including Terrace Well.” His gaze dropped to the medallion and his tone softened. “Your parents’ union only brought about a portion of the peace they had hoped for.”

         “It’s a sad truth, Salana,” Thomey said in a soft voice.

         The comment sent a lump in her chest. “Is there no way to end these wars and allow our people to live without that threat? Raise our children to know a world of peace instead of battlement training in their elementary years?”

         A touch of compassion crossed General Hilton’s expression. “There’s not a nation in existence that isn’t touched by war. It’s a part of life we must prepare our young for.”

         Salana’s brow dipped with her retort. “Of course there’s a nation that hasn’t been touched by war. The Tsosey have lived for centuries without it. And I highly doubt Terrace Well would have taken up arms if people like Ambassador Lowhan would have minded their own business. The Terracians are a lot like the Tsosey. I believe they chose those caves to live in peace…away from all this war. The Tsosey just ventured further into the caverns.” She looked at Professor Rahés for support of the fact.

         He blinked, met her gaze, and then nodded. “The Tsosey are very reclusive and—” He spoke the rest of the sentence slowly, accentuating each word with a low voice. “—don’t take to strangers. The only contact they are willing to make with the World Above is through small trade, isn’t that right?”

         Even though the trailing unneeded questions proved to be part of his speech pattern, Salana quickly bobbed her head in agreement.

         “But, yes, Salana,” the professor added. “Last word has it they have never been to war.”

         Okay, not the complete affirmation I was looking for, but good enough.

         “So, there’s hope.” She settled back in her chair as if that ended the discussion.

         Thomey smiled, kissed the emeralds at her temple, and then led his lips to the gems on her Daughter of the Nation browband. “There’s hope.”

         She turned to him, grateful for his loving support. Her lopsided smile tightened the dimple in her cheek as she spoke into his ear. “What do you say we take the back way out and go to the estate for drinks?”

         “Mmm. I’d love to, my dear, but I have at least twelve contacts I need to follow through with tonight while I’m here.”

         Salana tempered a grumble as her smile faded. Of course, you do.

         He brushed her cheek with his fingertips. “I know you’re tired and don’t enjoy these conversations. Why don’t you go on home and freshen up for the ball later? I’ll stop by and pick you up when I’m done.”

         A sigh rode her reply. “Okay.”

         “If it gets to be too late, I’ll call you tomorrow.”

         The same words will result in the same no-show.

         As she stood, Thomey did the same, his light touch tipping her elbow. Brushing the front of her silk dress, she checked the angle of her emerald sash. She turned away, but Thomey reached and cupped her cheek with his palm. “I’m the luckiest man on the planet to be promised to you, Salana. Moraine holds no other woman for me.”

         His soft lips met hers and the world stood still. The clank of spoons, the rumble of conversation, and the stringed quartet faded from existence. Cares disappeared. He released her too soon.

         “Come home with me, Thomey,” she whispered, her eyes quirked with a plea.

         He kissed the tip of her nose. “I’ll probably see you tomorrow, my dear.”

         Her gaze dropped to the linen napkin in her grip. A small nod dismissed the topic. Thomey turned away, and she tossed the white fabric on her plate. Tomorrow. She sighed, and the familiar sting of salty tears seeped behind her eyes. Unless something else comes up.

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