The silken strands weaved between my fingers while I thought back to a time when I had handmaidens. I’d culled and burned the lot right before the castle walls after discovering how some had aided in my father’s demise. In the attempted demise of me and this palace.
Some had probably been undeserving, innocent, but the burning inferno inside my chest hadn’t cared. In any case, it was best not to take any chances.
Raised by grandparents. I scoffed and grabbed a piece of silk to tie the ends of my hair.
His parents were dead, and none of those in power had grandparents anymore.
Unnerved and frustrated, I didn’t return to the dungeon for two nights.
Two nights spent staring at the cracks in the ceiling, wondering how my heart fared in comparison.
My heart had it worse than the ancient stonework.
I was better than that, and I proved it to myself. If I couldn’t sleep, and if I couldn’t fuck—though not for lack of trying, I just wasn’t interested—then I would fight.
I dodged left, then pirouetted, arcing down and slicing through Garris’s holster as he stumbled back. “Majesty,” he said, out of breath, fear a shining entity in his eyes.
I swallowed, then rolled my shoulders. “Again.”
Ignoring his broken holster, he took his position, raising his sword as he squared his feet.
Pinks and muted oranges gave backdrop to the square balcony, bouncing off the vines and blood red roses circling it. I dodged its rays as well as Garris’s lunge and leaped backward into a roll, my stomach protesting as I found my footing.
“You need to eat,” a deceptively soft voice said from behind me.
Distracted by Zad’s sudden presence, Garris howled when I spun into a roundhouse kick and struck him in the ribs. He collapsed, groaning and cursing.
“When you’re done whining, clean up.” I sheathed my sword and left it behind. Without looking at Zad, I floated past him as I began unbraiding my hair.
“You’re back,” I said once he’d caught up with me.
His favored knee-high black boots scuffed over the concrete stairs, and I frowned, annoyed that I hadn’t even heard his approach to the rooftop.
The sooner my king was dead, the better.
“We have things to discuss.”
He kept his hands clasped before him as he stared straight ahead, his profile unreadable when I chanced a quick glance. “After you’ve eaten.”
I bit my tongue. We hit the hall, gliding past ancestors trapped in silver heavy frames, and wound down the next, and the one after that.
When concrete met woolen rugs, I caught the scent of freshly baked bread and coffee. My stomach vibrated once more, but I didn’t care who heard. I pushed open the doors to the dining room and shooed the kitchen staff and servers away.
Zad prepared my coffee while I grabbed a goblet of water and drained it. I was tempted to slouch all over my chair, but I gathered some self-control and tucked my legs in, one rising to rest over the other as I reached for a piece of buttered toast.
“Things?” I prompted, taking another sip of water.
He placed a steaming cup of coffee down before me, the porcelain tiny in his large hand, then took a seat in the chair to my right. “He’s not dead yet.”
I coughed, tilting my head as I met his blank gaze. “And that is your concern now, is it?”
Zad sat with the stillness of a predator, his black jacket pressed to perfection, hinting at the lean yet powerful form beneath with the way it sat and draped over his muscular shoulders. A ruse, the finery, to hide what lurked beneath.
He drank some coffee, then set his cup down. “I do not pretend to know everything, but I do know one thing. I cannot vow to you when he is no longer in exile.” With a coldness that threatened to engulf my skin in chills, he shifted his lips and fixed his golden eyes upon me. “He needs to die, and you’re prolonging it.”
“He will die, and I alone will make sure of it.” I tore at a piece of buttery toast, chewing hard. If he thought he could return here and boss me around…
“You’re still in love with him.”
The bread seemed to expand in my throat, and I had to force it down with coffee. “Is one even capable of love when they no longer have a heart?”
Zad studied me. “Oh, you have one. It’s just a little more… dead than usual.”
That pulled a smile from me. “You speak the truth.”
“Always.” His eyes danced over my face, falling to my mouth.
I bit my lip but decided to keep things from going any further. “He will meet his end when he understands the multitude of ways he caused me to meet my own.”
“Dramatic.” Long, deft, thick fingers tapped a slow beat over the table.