Female laughter began to flood the stairwell outside Raiden’s rooms. I wasn’t sure where the king had been, but it hadn’t involved his own bed chamber. I’d been in here all day. Alone and stewing on every betrayal and best kept secret.
“Majesty,” a little voice said from the doorway.
Braiding the front of my hair, I knocked my eyes that way briefly. A little girl, no older than ten or twelve, curtsied in a cream tunic dress.
“Yes?” I said. My fingers were busy, but I still kept one eye on the golden-haired girl in the mirror.
She might’ve been just a child, but I was once a child capable of great destruction.
Packaging meant nothing.
Her voice shook a little, but she took one step forward. “His royal highness requests your presence in the ballroom.”
I finished braiding my hair, inspecting the way it crossed from ear to ear, the rest of my hair a flowing river of black waves. Turning on the stool, I gave the girl my attention. “And who are you?”
“My name is Denae.”
“Your affiliation to the king?” I stood, my deep blue gown of glittering silk flowing from the tops of my breasts to the tips of my toes.
My feet were bare, but no one in this wretched place seemed to wear shoes inside, and my boots would ruin the dress. It wasn’t what I would have picked, given the choice, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever worn either.
Denae chewed on her lip, her large blue eyes rounding as they traveled over my dress and gazed up into my face. “My mother works for him.”
He was a conniving, despicable, sneak of a male, yet I couldn’t keep my next heartbeat from dropping. “He’s your father then?”
She giggled. “I wish.” Dragging a dirty toe across the sandstone floor, she said, “My father works in the stables.”
I snuffed the relief that threatened to quake my knees. He could sire as many illegitimate heirs as he pleased. I’d need to get over it, just as I was getting over him.
“Very well then, Denae.” My dress scraped behind me over the floor as I met her in the doorway. “Would you care to show me where to go?” I could find it just fine on my own, but I found myself enjoying the way her eyes sparkled when she looked at me.
A little awe in a kingdom riddled with people trying to stare you dead went a long way.
“Yes, my queen.” She bobbed out of the way, curtsying toward the stairs outside.
I led the way, and she skipped behind me, racing in front once we’d reached the bottom.
“That dress sure is beautiful.”
“It’s not hideous, I’ll give your king that much.” She giggled again, stubbing her toe when I said, “I’ll have it taken to you when I’m finished with it if you’d like.”
Wincing, she glanced down at the graze on her big toe, then up at me. “Really?”
My lips wriggled. “Really.”
Her lashes fluttered, her freckle-lined mouth opening and closing. “But I won’t fit it.”
“It will not be long before you do.”
Dimples dented her cheeks as she grinned, displaying a crooked front tooth.
“Denae?” a brown-haired female called, coming around the corner. “Where have you been? It’s time for you to join the other children in the pool hut.” When she saw me, she raced over, coming to an abrupt stop. With a curtsy she shouldn’t have even bothered with, she muttered, “Majesty.”
I flicked my hand, then crouched down before Denae. “I shall leave it at the top of the stairwell.”
The brunette frowned at me as I rose and left them both behind, following the sound of laughter and the haunting strain of violins to the ballroom.
I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting. Champagne, ale, merriment, couples pairing off. There was all that, but there was also so much more.
Feeding the land indeed, and to the extreme those old stories suggested.
Naked males and females and men and women were lounging, dancing, eating, and fucking.
Some in groups of three, others in clusters with any given number.
The musky scent of sex permeated, and I backed up, positive I had the wrong room. Raiden couldn’t mean to meet me here in what seemed to be the thick of this… celebration.
A strong set of hands landed upon my shoulders, my hair moved aside for Raiden’s lips to meet the skin of my cheek. “Not the party you were expecting?”
I struggled to remove my gaze from a group of males taking turns with a woman, and when I did, it fell on three females who were laughing and feasting on one another. “It’s fine,” I croaked.
“If you leave now, they’ll think you don’t approve of our customs.”
Of course, they would.
His teeth nipped at my earlobe, his breath too hot. “Come. Sit with me. We don’t have to take part.”
Left with little choice, I placed my hand in his, and allowed him to escort me across the room to an empty chaise. A chaise that had probably seen a variety of bare backsides and its share of bodily fluids. I tried not to cringe as the dress I’d promised Denae separated my ass from it.