Page 138 of A King So Cold

“You do not mean that,” I said, voice quaking.

“I do,” he said, too firm. “You once told me a queen can do whatever she damn well pleases. So if it were me you truly wanted, you would have taken me already.” Unhurried, his bare feet ate the space between us. “You chose not to, and not for the sake of the continent, but for the sake of your dark heart.” He leaned closer, his scent and voice dizzying, as he said low, “You prefer it black. You prefer it hurt rather than feel good because then you needn’t worry about someone destroying it again. So this game of push and pull that makes you feel safe?” he said. “I will play it no more.”

With that, he slammed the door, and I couldn’t even bring myself to knock or force it open. A dagger was cutting through my insides as I bit my lip, tasting copper on the way out.

Hope. It was hope that carried the most buoyant type of joy.

It was hope that was the most addictive feeling of all—that sense of such euphoric happiness lying just out of reach.

You can smell it. Taste it. Imagine it. Long for it.

And that is why hope is the most dangerous foe of all.

For when that glimmer of happiness falls away, slips from reach and from sight, you don’t just fall. You plummet.

And many do not survive the impact.

A ship filled with trading goods was entering the harbor.

I watched its captain at the helm, and the way he slowly grew into a more detailed man the closer he brought the vessel to the docks.

He was hairy. His face and his long hair gray. A human covered in tattoos we’d often hear about in neighboring countries. Countries that would trade with us but nothing else.

To them, we were a land of monsters. Tyrants with too much power within our midst.

Certain beings were better left inside the pages of a book in order to sleep well each night. It would do us and the rest of the world no good to acknowledge our existence too closely. Someone might get a bright idea. Or a dark one.

And there were some wars you couldn’t win, no matter how much power you possessed.

A blue tail peeked through the waves created by the long ship, then a glimpse of gray.

A mermaid.

So many said they rarely saw them, the creatures of Beldine who roamed its bordering seas.

They were the very reason I stopped to stare at the water, even at the expense of gawkers and mothers asking me to wish their babes well.

I saw them often. Though never up close. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, for I wasn’t sure what it was I’d see.

Some said they were beautiful; true sirens who would draw many men to their deaths.

Some said they looked like regular human women. Some pretty, some not so much, and some in between.

Some said they were the true monsters of the sea, not the serpents or the sharks or sea dragons, but the women with bodies who lured and faces that would chase a child into nightmares for the rest of their existence.

Some said they had no souls and would forever search for them in the still beating hearts of mortals.

Your heart is about as good as the existence of your soul—a rotten fucking lie.

Had he meant such cruelty? I should’ve known better than to even wonder. The lord was born with a tongue that could so casually cut through any adversary, no matter how he felt for them. He could be cold and indifferent, but never in this way.

“They like the ships,” Truin said, appearing next to me.

I didn’t look over at her. I kept my chin on my arms, which were folded over the wooden railing used to shield the residents of the city from the sharp rocks fringing the ice-flecked waters below.

“You see them, too.”

“All my life.”

“Have you ever met one?”

She laughed. “No. Most likely, no one has. Or they haven’t lived to tell the tale.”

“What tale do you think that would be?”

She was quiet a moment, as if thinking about it. “I’ve no idea. When I was a girl, I’d sometimes wonder if they could meet a handsome prince, kiss him, and then grow legs. And if that was why they called them sirens.”

“Did you think they’d kill the prince after getting what they wanted?”

“Horrid,” she said, smiling wide. “No, I did not.”

“I bet they would,” I said, smiling a little myself as another tail flapped through the water behind the slowing ship, this one orange. “I would.”

“You know,” she said, “I don’t know if you would.”

My eyes snapped to hers, and she grinned, as if that were her plan. Gradually, her smile sank, and a tiny crease formed between her bending brows. “I’m sorry I left last night.”