It’s weeks like this one that makes Rachel want to slip away to where Princess Ilianna Drakara lives; a magical place filled with castles and wraiths, a seer and a handsome prince (two of them actually), and don’t forget a mystical bird with attitude. All of these plus more are within Rachel’s newest release, Of Blood and Deceit.
But then she’ll read a sample from chapter two that makes her rethink that choice. Ilianna, after all, doesn’t have the typical life of a princess.
Another rap on the door caused me to jump. Sameen was already across the room. She opened the door a crack to peer out but then skirted back with a bow.
Mikael entered, carrying a silver serving tray. The prince followed his guard but froze two steps within the door when our gazes locked. My breath stilled in my lungs.
“I see now that your uncle’s artist is an incompetent fool,” he said.
The muscles between my brows tightened. I gripped the handles of the chair, jolting to the edge of the seat. “This is highly inappropriate, don’t you think?”
His hand flew out to halt me in place. “Please, stay where you are.” Piercing blue eyes searched my face and trailed the length of my hair down to the scar on my neck—then to the walls to inspect the tapestry that hung there instead. “You are an enemy and a recently released prisoner. Do you really think we respect your privacy? Besides, we bring you your dinner, Princess.”
My ragged nails dug into the soft wood of the arm rest. “I did not know that the prince of Anolyn was such a generous host. I might have left your prison sooner for such comforts.”
A smile lit the corners of his mouth. He gave a slight bow. “It’s amazing what a warm bath and hot dinner can do for one’s outlook on life, is it not?”
“I thought you did not have the time for such bothers.”
He tipped his head to Mikael, who handed the tray to Sameen. She set it on my lap—a small bowl of stew and another slice of bread.
My mouth exploded into salivating, but I didn’t move to eat.
Mikael began to search the room.
Castiel cleared his throat and peered out the windows to the vast expanse of his royal lawns. Did I sense nervousness in the lines of his face? But whatever I saw in his magnificent profile—for it was magnificent—was gone when he looked at me again.
“It has come to my attention that you have more injuries to you than what was delivered today by Scores.”
I couldn’t control the flush in my cheeks, or the sense of betrayal from Sameen. I should already be accustomed to such treatment.
“Who else hurt you?” he asked, unaware of my mental berating.
I smiled sweetly. “You shock me, Your Highness.”
“Was it done by my guards?”
I opened my mouth, but a memory of Scores pinned against a wall by an unseen force caused my throat to swell in anxiety. Despite his sudden concern, I needed to remember and never forget: Castiel was a magician capable of horrors I could only imagine.
I shrugged and stared at the fire. “A warrior cannot flee battle without a few scars. Have no fear, Your Highness. Your guards have been more than gracious.”
I lifted the lid to the soup, pretending nonchalance, then almost slammed it shut when my stomach groaned in an impatient declaration. I set the tray on the table next to me, then wiped my suddenly sweaty hands on my robe.
From behind me, a ruffle of blankets drew my attention. I smiled again when Mikael patted down the unused mattress to search for hidden weapons. “Will your guard be turning down my bed?”
Mikael froze in place. His tattoos danced in the fire’s light and added to his rather frightening glare. A clawed hand gripped a pillow as if he wanted to tear it in half—
Castiel actually laughed, a soft chuckle that vibrated in the back of my ears. Hands behind him, he paced the length of the room. “Until your removal, your room will be inspected several times a day, so get used to it.”
“That sounds more like you. Let’s not pretend to be friendly. That would upset my first impression of you.”
The prince stilled.
I silently cursed myself. When would I ever learn to shut my mouth as I had been taught?
He waited until his guard had finished with the search. Sameen was hesitant when asked to go with Mikael but did as she was told. I begged her with my eyes not to leave me alone with the magician, but the door shut behind her with a resolute click.
“You don’t know anything about me, Princess.” Castiel’s voice was a ghostly whisper that sent tremors throughout my body. “You want kind, do you? I’ve known who you are from the moment you entered my kingdom. I’ve watched you. Waited.”
He prowled forward to grasp the handles of my chair. His skin grazed mine. I gasped and jerked from his touch, but he didn’t seem to notice. Had I expected a magician’s touch to be different from a human’s? I cursed my stupidity. Of course they wouldn’t feel different. I refrained from shrinking back further despite the flurry of butterflies that sickened the inside of my stomach.
He leaned forward, his face so near that I inhaled the scent of the soap he used to bathe.
It was an impressive show of intimidation—but I’d seen so much worse to be truly scared.
“Do you really think we treat our prisoners so well?” he asked. “Do you think you were properly searched upon arrival? Interrogated?”
My face exploded into uncomfortable blotches of red. My nails itched to scratch out the eyes that delved too deeply in mine, but before I could react he pushed away with added oomph. My chair tipped rearward, but I jerked forward and it slammed back down with a clatter.
Castiel reclaimed his place near the fire.
Hands shaking, I wrapped my robe even tighter around me and forced myself to remain calm. Even then, I heard the nervous lilt to my next words. “If that’s true, then—”
“If that’s true?” His head snapped my direction, pinning me in place. His eyes saw everything. “Did you never once think it odd at the amount of times you were fed? That you did not waste away to nothing?”
My mouth opened, but nothing came out. I couldn’t move, could barely breathe.
He continued, regardless. “I’ve personally seen to the care of your cell—much to the annoyance of my brother—making sure the least amount of disease crawled through those bars to infect you. You think no one watched you every time you took your weekly walks? Never in the history of warfare has another prisoner been treated as special as you have been, Princess.”
“Why punish you for your uncle’s mistake? I am more than willing to continue to treat you as a guest and an honorable member of royalty… if you earn it.”
A form of hope snaked through me, slow and deadly. “What do I have to do?”
“Tell me what your uncle’s plan is. Why this sudden desire for peace? Why send his niece as a marriage offering? And after refusal, why send you to spy?”
A muscled in my neck spasmed. “I was refused?”
One brow raised high. “Does that upset you?”
Embarrassment singed my cheeks. I tsked despite my flurried breath. “Of course not.”
“Don’t take it too hard. The king isn’t easily charmed by a pretty face.”
“I couldn’t care less what charms him.”
But Castiel ignored my indignant response and fixed his stare to the flames within the hearth.
“If friendly is what you seek,” he began, his voice a forced calm, “I suggest you be more open with your actions. I’ll ask you one more time. Why are you here?”
I swallowed hard. “And I’ll give you the same answer I gave before, because it’s true. I have no desire to be here. I only wanted to pass through.”
“Very well.” He spun on his heel and quit the room without another word.
I closed my eyes, hating the way my heart settled against my stomach. I heard the door open and shut but didn’t look to the source, knowing who entered. I could almost feel her. “You lied to me.”
“No, I didn’t.” Sameen’s voice was strong, and nearer than I thought. “I said I wouldn’t tell him what I recognize those marks to be, and I didn’t. You must be the one to tell him what they truly are.”
I set my jaw. And that would never happen.