Aris Haan slid into wakefulness a few seconds before the lights snapped on. With a sigh, she snuggled back into Milek Vadim’s warm body and admired how the sky-blue stone in her Promise ring glimmered in the light. She tilted her hand back and forth to make the color dance.
With a sleepy groan, Milek nuzzled the back of her neck. “Morning.”
“Good morning.” Aris smiled to herself, tingles racing along her skin. She turned over to face him, and he curled an arm over her, drawing her so close that his sleepy blue eyes and pale scar blurred, until all she could see clearly was the inviting softness of his mouth.
She gave him a whisper of a kiss. “I like waking up like this.”
“So do I.” His lips trailed along her jaw, his early morning stubble tickling her skin.
Her breath caught. This moment still felt so incredibly, unbelievably new. Just a few weeks ago, when Aris’s wingjet had been shot down over Safara, she didn’t think she’d ever see Milek again.
And now they were Promised.
Commander Nyx, their superior officer, had taken the news with a single stony glance, a more effective warning to behave themselves than any lecture. She allowed them to share a room at Spiro, their stationpoint, a move no one else had questioned, though Aris could see the jealousy in their fellow soldiers’ narrowed eyes and sidelong glances. They missed their loved ones back home and resented that Aris and Milek got to be together. And Aris couldn’t fault them for that. She still fought her own niggling worry, that her happiness should be forbidden, an unwarranted luxury in a time of war.
“Do you want to use the washroom first?” Milek’s voice still had a sleepy rasp to it, and his cheek bore a crease from the pillow.
Aris kissed his stubbly chin and slid out from under their nest of blankets. In the shower, she closed her eyes, letting the hot water pummel her skin. Everything she and Milek knew about each other was tied to the war, to death and destruction. If Aris hadn’t joined Military disguised as a man, she would have never even met Milek, her then superior officer. They’d only known each other for a year and a few months. How could anyone be prepared for a lifetime together after such a short time?
Their Promise sprang from hope, not conviction.
From the hope that their love wouldn’t forever be defined by battle plans and political maneuvering. The hope that someday they’d have a chance to be together—to know each other—without death waiting just outside the door.
She tried to imagine what their lives could be without the war. At this time of day, maybe she’d still be asleep. Or deciding what to wear to work. Or attempting to cook them breakfast. Her mother, a chef, had tried everything, but Aris’s peshka came out soggy, her tea cakes leaden, and her olive paste gritty.
As she punched the panel to turn off the shower, a cold draft sent a shiver down her spine. She hurriedly wrapped her towel around herself and flung the door open into the bedroom.
“Can you cook?” she asked Milek. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, shirtless, pulling on his boots. He glanced up, one brow raised, but she didn’t give him time to answer. “Because I can’t. The last time I tried to make grouse stew I practically poisoned my entire family. When the war is over, we’re going to have to feed ourselves, and if you can’t cook . . . honestly, we might starve.”
While she was speaking, Milek stood up and, with a little smile, put his hands on her shoulders. “I promise you, we won’t starve.”
She shook her head, wild-eyed. “You can’t cook! This is a disaster. How will we—”