Rachel begged Kate to allow her to switch posting weeks so Kate could take this day to announce the launch of her fantastic novella, but alas,
our resident redhead is stubborn and wouldn’t allow our schedule to be abused. On the 28th, Rachel’s book, Of Blood and Deceit made it’s way to the public. She has already posted almost half of the chapter back in May (click here to read it), so to celebrate here is the rest.
Chapter 1 Continued: A Royal Prisoner
I came to when my legs crumpled on a hard floor. Wet, weak and annoyed, I allowed the cold of the concrete to seep into my skin, glad to feel something other than my throbbing body. I pushed my hands against the ground, rising partway.
At first hazy, my gaze darted about an expansive and impeccably clean room. A huge stone fireplace blazed, warm and alive. A window was cracked open to allow a small breeze from outside, although the rain still poured in sheets.
The smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air, seizing almost every sense. A crystal goblet, a smaller wooden cup, and a platter with half a loaf of steaming bread teased from the top of an ornate wooden desk that faced the door. My stomach growled pitifully, but I forced myself to ignore the irritating hunger.
Masses of papers and folders littered the top of the desk. Books were scattered about the room, stacked upon the floor and lined within rows of a private library. The owner of this receiving room was important. Advisor to the king? The king’s commander?
“What is this?” His voice was instantly recognizable and so were his boots now cleaned from the mud.
I inhaled a ragged breath as the guards gripped my arms and dragged me to my feet. I swayed on the spot but managed to stay upright.
Three guards stood at attention behind me. The one from the prison spoke. “The prisoner, sir.”
Clean and dry in new black pants and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top, the man with the impossibly deep voice finished drying his thick black hair cropped tight on the sides, then tossed the towel to the ground. He ran his fingers through the tresses, calming the damp mess.
I cursed beneath my breath.
The King’s brother. Prince Castiel Anouk of Anolyn, known for his cunning in battle. I had yet to face the renowned warrior. Something within warned me that I never wanted to.
The room went silent. His piercing blue eyes scanned my appearance, then that of the guards. “It’s Lieutenant Scores, correct?”
Scores nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The prince scrutinized each guard from top to bottom. “I don’t see a mark upon anyone else. Did she attack you?”
Scores’s head twitched. “No, sir.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “She must have attacked someone. Why else would you have beaten her to a pulp?”
The two other guards gawked at each other, their faces pale.
“You—you requested the prisoner be brought to you,” Scores said.
Another moment of silence, then, “And so you beat her?”
“I thought she had offended—”
Quicker than lightning, the prince thrust forward his hand. The lieutenant, as if seized by the throat, lifted into the air, although no physical contact was made. Power radiated the room, and I cringed.
A magician. A hiss issued from my lips as magic pulsed through the air. I took an automatic step back, my adrenaline firing, but could not look away. How much could he sense?
Muscles rippled in his jaw. Anger infused the prince’s words. “If I’d been offended, I wouldn’t need someone like you to do my dirty work for me, would I?”
Then the energy released, and Scores crashed to the ground. He wrapped a hand around his neck and coughed, his voice rasped. “No, sir. Forgive me, sir.”
The prince whipped around. “Captain!”
Not even a second passed before the large oak door opened. The man—if you could call him that—must have been listening from outside, awaiting his orders. A beast of hulking muscles and ink, he entered the room, making the space a little too crowded. I instinctively took another step back.
A magician and a giant.
He smirked, catching the movement. His eyes pinned me to the spot, stopping any further retreat. Blood drew to my cheeks. Shaved close on the sides and back like his prince, his blond hair pulled tight into a pony-tail, exposing a high forehead and severely cut jawline. A tattoo crawled down the side of his neck and disappeared beneath his black, leather jerkin.
“Yes, sir,” the giant said. His voice rumbled within his throat.
“Mikael, Lieutenant Scores is relieved from duty.”
Scores stuttered. “But—but, sir!”
“Make sure he’s reassigned somewhere far away, with no option for promotion. Find an appropriate replacement among your men. And send for Sameen.”
Mikael stifled a laughed. “Yes, sir. Come with me, Scores.”
Scores’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, the blood draining from his face.
“You’re all dismissed,” the prince said, his tone an icy warning.
Bowing, Scores and his men trailed after Mikael.
The prince considered me from across the room, then walked to his desk, giving me the ability to study him unabashed. He was young. Probably no more than twenty. And he was handsome. No, that was the wrong word. He was breathtaking—which meant only one thing: he was dangerous.
He drank from a crystal goblet. The skin of his throat and hands were favorably tanned, unlike so many of the nobles of my kingdom. Eira’s harsh climates kept most indoors. Even those with dark skin paled in the lack of sun. His gaze found mine before I could lower my eyes to my hands. Did he expect me to speak? I clamped my mouth even tighter.
He set his cup down with a clank. Then, producing a knife from the holster at his belt, he sliced a chunk of bread from the loaf, but he did not eat. “Please,” he said, gesturing to a chair on the other side of his desk. I did not move until he put away his blade.
The prince noticed.
Even though my legs shook with fatigue I wavered, wary to sit across from a being that was both a prince and a magician. I perched at the edge of my seat, ready to make my escape if necessary. My gaze flashed to the cracked window.
Prince Castiel’s head tipped to one side as he inspected me, curiosity brimming in those strange blue eyes.
Unexpectedly conscious of my appearance, I pawed at my dark hair, but gave up when my fingers caught in a tangled, greasy mess. I peered down at my ragged prison gown, bruised ankles, and dirty, black-encrusted toenails.
“You must be hungry,” he said, gesturing to the bread. “Go ahead.”
I didn’t wait for another invitation. I snatched the cut piece and took a bite. The king of Anolyn didn’t starve his prisoners like Eira’s did, but this wasn’t stale or full of weevils, and my taste buds zinged to the mouthwatering flavor. For the briefest moment, I wondered if I should be worried it was poisoned, but the next bite smothered the fear. It was the best tasting thing I had ever had and well worth dying for.
“Careful,” the prince cautioned. “You don’t want to make yourself sick.”
I swallowed, chewing slower.
Again, he watched me, waiting until I finished the last bite. My eyes dropped to the remaining loaf, but he pulled the plate out of reach. “You can have the rest later.” He leaned back, resting his chin on steepled fingers. “You’ve created quite a stir as of late, did you know that?”
My head shot up and my heart quickened, but I didn’t answer.
One eyebrow raised. “We’ve been waiting for some time for you to make your move, but three months and… absolutely nothing.” He sighed again, then picked up a folder from his desk, searching through the contents. “You’ve only ever been seen in battle, so you were almost unrecognizable without your usual attire.”
My voice rasped. “Please, Your Highness—”
“So, you know who I am?” He picked up another folder and thumbed past a few pages. Heat rose to my face as I speculated just what condemning documents he was searching through.
I swallowed. “Of course. All your loyal subjects do. You are Prince Castiel Anouk of Anolyn.”
“And so that is who you are? A loyal subject?”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
He paused, stroking the line of his sharp chin with his fingers. “That’s an interesting lie. But I’m pleased you know who I am. It makes things a lot easier.” His eyes narrowed as he considered me. “I couldn’t believe it at first. The Scourge of Men right here in my very own home. I wonder if you think I should be honored.”
I barely contained my surprise. “There is no such person, and even if there was, that title is not mine.”
His tone was like ice. “Why did you attack a soldier?
“He attacked me.”
“You failed to provide any sort of identification.”
“I didn’t know I needed any.” I could feel his fingers tighten around my throat like a vise, but knew it was just my imagination.
His fist slammed on the top of his desk. I hid a responding jolt, my insides lurching.
“Anyone traveling outside of their community where they will not be recognized must have the proper paperwork.” His face softened. A smile tipped one side of his mouth. “But it’s alright. That has been rectified.”
He selected a page from his folder then lightly tossed it away. It fluttered to the table top in front of me and I froze.
My mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“There’s your paperwork.” He smiled. “Now that we both know each other, you can stop the charade, Your Highness.”
I licked my dry lips. “My lord, please,”
“Princess Ilianna Drakara, daughter to the fallen Prince Toma, and the only living relative to King Johan Drakara. You have been offered as a mate to my brother, which is why he sent us this lovely depiction of you to persuade him into matrimony, along with lists describing your many attributes.” One brow ticked high on a smooth forehead. “I must say I was impressed to hear you are such a fine dancer on top of being a fearless warrior.”
My face flushed an even deeper shade of red. It took everything I had not to grab the papers from his hands.
“Despite the months of grime, your likeness is uncanny. I have to say: your eyes are much more unsettling in person.” He gestured to the picture. “They’re almost transparent. Perhaps silver. Even still, I assume you resemble your mother more. Besides the hair color, I see nothing of Toma or Johan in you, although, not much is known of the woman who bore you.”
My mouth clamped shut with an audible click. My mother was a peasant woman. Unworthy of a prince, she sufficed as a mistress and Toma had taken her to his bed. Unfortunately, she soon became pregnant, then died giving birth to me. After my father’s death, my uncle took me under his wing, but he never let me forget my lineage.
I never spoke of my mother. No one did.
A smug smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “If you wanted the crown so badly, did you really think encroaching upon our dungeons would gain my brother’s attention?”
Rage infused my tone. “How dare you—”
“Or were you going for pity with this look?” His gazed lowered to my clenched fists.
I gave up all pretenses, realizing they were useless. “I didn’t want any attention at all, Your Highness.”
“Then why did you come?”
“I didn’t come to your kingdom to stay, but to pass through. It was your men that stopped me.”
He closed the file with a snap. The hard lines of his face deepened as he regarded me. “Passage amid our two kingdoms has been forbidden for many years, Princess, due to the wars fought against your uncle to keep our lands safe from his greed.”
The muscles between my brows pinched, but I kept my voice as even as possible. “The war is over. Peace has been established. Our roads should be reopened to allow safe passage.”
He leaned forward, pressing his hands against the top of his desk. “Did Johan tell you that? Neither kingdom has seen peace since before the demon wars, over twenty years ago. Treaties have just begun. Your uncle’s offering of his only blood relation was a way of beginning that treaty.”
“I—” I couldn’t form the appropriate sentence. “I was not aware of any offering…” At least any offer that had been made. As far as I knew, he had only mentioned the idea to me the day of my escape. That was the very reason I had fled my kingdom, but I would never have run toward a country we still were at war with. It made no sense.
“And why would you want to leave your country?” the prince pressed.
I swallowed. “My reasons are my own.” Phantom pain slid through the burn at my neck, touching upon the others that would stay unseen.
“They must not have been that important. You barely put up a fight. Only an ear was lost before you gave up. That’s nothing for you.”
Tired of this interrogation, I slid on a fake smile. It was the face I displayed when necessary. A mask to hide what weakness lay beneath. “I didn’t want to be recognized.”
“That’s right. Because Eira’s Demon Daughter would be recognized within my kingdom. How old were you when you started fighting for king and country? Fifteen? Sixteen?”
I was twelve, not that I would tell him.
He continued. “Your name is one of legends.”
“Legends can be deceiving. I do not own that ridiculous title.” Or at least I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any of it. “Surely you must know there’s no such person. Just stories spread to incite fear among the enemy.”
“Stories spawn from somewhere, Princess.” He threw down another piece of paper. A sketch. And I froze.
“As you see, not everyone who has seen your face has died. This was created by someone who saw you and lived to tell the tale.”
The blood drained from my already paled cheeks. I stared at a terrifying sketch of me—or what appeared to be me—in full battle gear. Flames haloed my body in a harrowing depiction of what I believed was my inner beast. How the artist managed to draw such amazing detail was beyond understanding. Only one had ever called me the Demon Daughter of Eira to my face, and I had killed him. Is that what I really looked like? Who else knew?
He smiled wickedly, exposing a perfect set of white teeth. “Obviously, the artist leans toward the dramatic, but it’s close enough.”
I glared, my mind spinning an escape through a castle I didn’t know.
The prince’s gaze did not flinch. “This whole time you’ve been here, you have not stated who you are, tried to reach out to your uncle, or made any attempt to flee.”
“Your cells are incredibly cushy.”
He ignored my flippant reply. “Why?”
I turned away with a lift of my chin, unwilling to tell him, to expose myself any further.
With a sigh, the prince sat down in his chair. He leaned back, placing his hands behind his head. “When my father was alive, he made several attempts toward peace negotiations, but Johan resisted and continued in his campaign against us. Why now do we find our prison cells holding a silent princess? Why now does your king send you as an offering?”
Why indeed. If I had an answer to that question, I wouldn’t be sitting across from a scheming magician.
He waited, seconds that felt like hours. “In the king’s attached letter, it speaks of a woman well versed in literature and who loves to recite poetry. Will you not speak so I can continue hearing your lovely voice?”
Humiliation grew to anger. Pride pricked at the back of my eyes. “What answer could I give that you would believe? It’s clear you do not trust me, and I have no reason to trust you. I have no answers for your highness.”
“Then you agree we are at an impasse?” When I again didn’t answer, he gathered my uncle’s sketch and tucked it away in his folder. “At one time, we would have no difficulty hanging you for the crimes you’ve committed against my people—”
“What crimes have I committed? We were at war.” “—but now that Johan declares a desire for this so-called peace, I have no choice but to send word to your king that you are here.”
Of Blood and Deceit is now available for purchase on Amazon. Happy reading!