The vision of Davidson and Carmadon is replaced with another. My brother and Elane in a familiar bedroom. My own wretched mother’s shadow at the door. There’s only one way to erase the vision threatening to burn itself onto my eyes.
While the rest make for the newly fashioned throne room, to greet my father as a king deserves, I do the opposite. I know Ridge House as well as my own face, and it isn’t difficult to slip away in the receiving courtyard, disappear into the regimented trees and flowers. The servants’ garden connects to the kitchens, and I barely notice the Reds as I pass. They shrink from my presence, well accustomed to my moods. Currently, I feel like a storm cloud, dark and brooding, threatening to burst.
Elane waits in my room. Our room, the windows clear, curtains open. She knows I like the sun, especially on her. She perches in one of the window seats, leaning back against a pillow, one leg dangling free, bare to her upper thigh beneath a sheer black gown. She doesn’t turn to look at me when I walk in, allowing me the time I want to adjust to her presence.
My eyes trace her leg before jumping to her hair, red and gleaming, loose around her pale shoulders. It looks like liquid fire. Her skin seems to glow, because it does. This is her ability, her art. She manipulates the light just so, accentuating herself without any need for makeup or finery. Rarely do I feel ugly. I’m a beautiful girl, by design and nature. But after the long flight, without my usual armor of an intricate dress and painted face, I feel diminished next to her. Unworthy. I fight the urge to duck into my bathroom and sweep a little makeup on.
Finally she turns, giving me full view of her face. Again I feel a little bit of shame in coming to her so disheveled. But want quickly chases away any other sensation. She laughs as I kick the door shut and cross the room to take her face in my hands. Her skin is smooth and cool beneath my fingers, a perfect alabaster. Still, she doesn’t speak, letting me look over her features.
“No crown,” she says, raising her hand to my temple.
“No need for it. They all know who I am.”
Her touch brushes lightly, sweeping down my cheekbone as she tries to smooth away my cares. “Did you sleep on your journey back?”
I huff, running my thumbs along the underside of her jaw. “Is that your way of saying I look tired?”
Her fingers continue over my face, down to my neck. “I’m saying you can sleep if you want.”
“I’ve slept enough.”
She smirks, lips twisting in the split second before I kiss her.
It breaks my heart to know she isn’t really mine.
A fist collides with my door, pounding directly on the entrance to my bedroom. Not even the salon outside, where visitors are meant to wait. My bedroom, our bedroom, directly. I shoot up from my pillows, untangling myself from the sheets with fury. With a flick of my wrist, I draw a knife from the chest across the room and make quick work of the silk twisting around my legs.
Elane doesn’t blink when the blade passes within an inch of her bare skin. She just yawns, my lazy cat, and rolls over to cradle a pillow. “So rude,” she murmurs, meaning both me and whatever idiot decided to interrupt us.
“Practicing for that foul creature,” I reply, cutting the last sheet. “What an unlucky messenger.”
I stand, naked, before tying a soft robe around myself with the blade still in hand.
The knocking continues, followed by a muffled voice. I recognize it, and some of my delicious, righteous anger evaporates. No scaring the colors out of anyone right now. Annoyed, I throw the knife at the wall. It sticks, blade sinking into the woodwork.
“What, Ptolemus?” I sigh, wrenching open the bedroom door. He looks similarly disheveled, his hair messy and his eyes burning. I suspect he was interrupted as I was. He and Wren Skonos like their afternoon trysts.
“We’re needed in the throne room,” he says firmly. “Right now.”