Still, panic caught every breath, my empty fingers curling at the feathers of my dress to keep from shaking.
“Cousin, you’re looking positively pale.”
“Excuse me,” Amelda said, ducking out of our circle. She weaved between the guests surrounding us, and the crowd swallowed her within seconds.
“I’m always pale,” I said, shifting back as the server collected the shards into a pan.
Adran laughed, his head bobbing. “True. So, your majesties…” His brows waggled. “How does it feel, reunited at long last?”
I frowned at him, as did Raiden, and then we both walked off in different directions, leaving Adran to finish his champagne on his own.
Out on the city streets, I felt Azela at my back, struggling to keep pace with me as I ducked and weaved between guests, searching for something I knew was no longer here.
A rotten fucking lie.
Stopping at one of the fountains housing wine that gurgled like purple water, I spun in a useless circle, growing dizzy as masked faces stared at me, laughter and talking and singing all blurring into a cloud of thunder that threatened to send me to the cobblestone street.
“Come,” Azela said, her hand wrapping around my arm.
“But…” I sniffed, stumbling a little.
“He is gone, Audra.” Rarely had I heard her use my name and never with such finality.
It did the job, and I whirled on Azela, taking in her somber expression.
After a moment, I nodded, and she led me back inside through hallways that’d been blocked off to the public, taking the long way to my rooms.
A moan stopped us in our tracks, and Azela cautiously rounded the corner.
I needed my own space, the silence to think and the chance to breathe without failing every time, so I rounded the corner and continued.
My feet tripped. I caught myself, slowing to take in Raiden and Eline.
He had her up against the wall in an alcove right beside the stairwell leading to my rooms, her legs wrapped tight around his waist.
Her cries were muffled as his mouth swept over hers, his hand gripping her thigh as he fucked her with hurried juts of his hips.
“Lovely,” I muttered, even as the remains of the wasteland he’d made for himself inside my chest panged. Yet as I headed upstairs, Azela accompanying me, I realized that pang lessened with each step.
Azela closed the doors but did not leave. I knew she was readying herself to say something about what we’d seen downstairs, but I hadn’t the energy to stop her. “He was fucking her. In the hallway.”
“Yes,” I said, removing my crown. I set it upon the pillow inside its glass home, then pulled off my mask. “A rather prime spot to do so.”
Azela cussed so violently, I almost laughed. “That filthy animal. He is your husband. And tonight of all nights.” She cussed again. “He should be setting an example.”
“He sure is setting one,” I said, moving my hair aside and motioning for help with undoing my corset.
Her hands were gentle as she unclasped each hook, and my shoulders drooped as I was able to finally draw my first deep breath for the evening. “What of the lord?” she asked carefully.
“The lord is the reason the king is currently inside another female and making a show of it.” That was all I’d give her, and she knew it.
“The marriage is a sham?”
“It is now.” I stepped out of my dress, leaving it behind in a mountain of feathers on the rug, and unclipped my undergarments on the way to the bathing chamber. “Good night, Azela.”
“I said good night.” After plugging the tub, I turned the faucet and straightened as Azela reached the doors. “Oh, and please tell our king that I am unwell and to express my apologies to our guests.”
Azela’s smirk caused my lips to wriggle. She nodded, leaving.
I climbed inside the tub, waiting for the heating water to fill around me, and stared at the wall. After a time, my dry eyes began to close, but I shook myself awake.
There’d be no lord to carry me to bed.
There’d be no lord awaiting me in my bed.
There was a good chance there would never be a lord in these rooms of mine ever again.
The regret caught fire, spreading to my eyes. I squeezed them shut.
Rotten souls did not cry.
Pushing my tea aside, I paused on one of the documents before me, and reread it.
A request for the termination of marriage, signed by Nova and Zad Allblood.
Cupping my mouth, I read it again and again, double-checking, needing to after what had happened two nights prior in this very castle.
After what had been said.
Then I was up and crossing the study, my ears ringing with my increasing heartbeat.
Mintale, on his way in, sandwiched himself into the doorway. “Majesty?”
“Zad. Lord Allblood. Is he still in the city?”
“At the Rosaleen, I believe, awaiting the approved termination.”