Joss was going to be dragged back to his homeland in chains for the murder of a peer of the realm, and he absolutely did not care. He was going to kill Sorrel when he found him, and enjoy every last moment of beating his head in with the first heavy object he was able to procure.
He wondered what it said about them, that they spent so much time threatening one another with murder. Not that he was remotely sorry—what sort of cad interrupted his lover’s work, fucked him senseless on the floor his office, and then bolted after making some obscure comment about rings and engagements.
And then the bloody bastard went into hiding! Joss had scoured every last nook and cranny of the palace and could not find a single hint of Sorrel anywhere. If anyone had seen him, they were not saying, and Joss was all the more annoyed that so many people would lie for the cad.
He fought a childish urge to stamp his foot in frustration and settled for raking a hand through his hair for the millionth time. The gesture was nowhere near soothing enough—he wanted to find Sorrel and smash his perfect nose.
The bloody poetry deserved to be published, and more importantly Sorrel deserved to be seen as more than a temporarily-reformed rake. Joss knew it wore on Sorrell that people constantly expected him to revert, just took it as understood that he would sleep with others behind Joss’ back. That he would act as contemptibly as they.
Joss marveled that they were all so dense. Sorrel believed in fidelity as strongly as he believed in being an utter bloody ass. Joss was going to murder him and laugh as he did it.
He stopped in front of a mirror and fixed his severely mussed hair, then straightened his clothes and tried to calm his temper. He may as well concede defeat; Sorrel would not be found until Sorrel wanted to be found.
Appearance righted, he headed into the Rose Parlor where the Queen had arranged a grand tea and musicale for the afternoon.
He stopped and narrowed his eyes as he saw Sorrel standing in the middle of the room chatting idly with at least half the members of the royal literary society, as though they had all been friends for ages and he was not constantly mocking them in private.
Knowing Sorrel, though, if he was talking to them so visibly then he had already cast his lots with theirs and would thenceforth defend them mercilessly. It was an admirable trait, if exasperating at times, but if Sorrel did not drive him mad Joss suspected he would not love the man half as much.
Not that loving him was going to keep Sorrel breathing much longer. He stalked across the room, ignoring everyone who tried to catch his attention, right into the throng surrounding Sorrel. “So have you had your revenge, then?”
“There you are, darling,” Sorrel drawled in that snotty way of his that Joss knew others tried to emulate and never really achieved. That particular note of condescension required a family tree with roots in the foundation of the kingdom, a blood connection to the throne, being the most beautiful man in the room, and an acute awareness of all those things. In short, no one would ever be as obnoxious as Sorrel. “I waited in your office all afternoon—”
Joss almost hit him. Really, he wanted to smack himself. He had explored the entire palace but never gone back to his own damned office. Of course Sorrel had hidden there, and he had probably nosed through Joss’ work while he laughed at the idea of Joss looking everywhere else for him. “Give me the bloody ring, or I will never have anything to do with you again,” Joss said.
Sorrel only smirked, and replied, “Darling, we are having the most fascinating discussion on the evolution of the ballad. Did you know—”
“Damn it, Sorrel,” Joss cut in. “I’ve had enough of your games.” He’d had more than enough; he was tired and frayed and behind all the anger and reluctant amusement at Sorrel’s obnoxiousness, he could not help the fear that the whole damned thing had been just a prank.
That there was no ring at all, and he had made a fool of himself, set himself up for something that was never going to be. A romantic Sorrel might be, but he was a jaded one. Joss rather hated the dead king who had thrown away the open, hopeful romantic Sorrel had once been.
He and Sorrel had been lovers for two years, and Joss had never thought once of being more—but if Sorrel had put the idea in his head as a joke—Joss really would murder him. He frowned as Sorrel placed a finger under his chin and tilted his face up, but didn’t protest the kiss. “If you think kissing me where people can actually see you do it is going to get you out of trouble—”
“You have no place complaining to me about anything, not when you steal my work and publish it without permission,” Sorrel replied.
“Says the man who hid in my office and probably read things that were none of his business,” Joss said tartly. “Do not make me upend a teapot on your too-pretty head.”
Sorrel smirked, and Joss truly hated that slow, hot, smug twist of his too-fine mouth, the knowing look in his winter-gray eyes. He reached into his jacket, as though he were reaching for his watch or appointment book, and withdrew something he kept carefully hidden from sight.
Holding his hand out, he opened his palm for Joss to finally see the ring. It was the single most obnoxious ring Joss had ever seen. It was nigh on tacky. The sort of thing a young girl expected during Lovers’ Day: two jeweled hearts—one of ruby, one of onyx—surrounded by small, brilliant diamonds, set in white gold. It was not a small ring, and was probably quite heavy. No one could possibly fail to notice it.
Despite all that, the ring still managed to be handsome, and the ruby heart was obviously a nod to Joss’ matchmaker broach. The onyx heart… “You really are quite impossible,” Joss said, and took the ring, sliding it into place on his left third finger. “I do not know why I am agreeing to this; it will only make you more unbearable.”
“I am irresistible,” Sorrel said smugly, and kissed him again before Joss could voice his scathing reply.