Zad smirked, sipping from the golden goblet, and my father threw his head back, clapping the lord as he laughed loud enough to scare the few guests nearby.
The clenching of my muscles eased, and I released a breath that shook my shoulders. Of course, the lord of the east knew how to play my father like a fiddle, or else he’d likely had lost his lands long ago.
Walking aimlessly, I found Berron and Truin outside by the fountain smoking pipes with some of the guards.
Berron glanced up, offered me a smile, and then emptied his goblet.
My breath sailed out of me, and I rushed forward to grab his chin. “What in the darkness happened to your face?”
He winced, then plucked my hand from his bruised skin. “It’s fine.” Purple and blue surrounded his right eye, and a gash split the middle of his lower lip. “Your betrothed apparently meant it when he warned me not to fuck you again.”
“I’ll rip his—”
“Where is he?” Poppy cut me off.
I barely refrained from sneering at the young guard. “Who?” We all knew who she was referring to, but it would not behoove me to act as though everything revolved around Prince Annoying.
“The Sun Prince.”
“In the wine cellar,” said Garris, joining us. “I saw him head down there as I was trading shifts.”
The urge to ask if he was alone itched like a rash, but I suffered the torment in silence.
They chattered on, discussing who was the best and worst dressed, and who would pair off with whom.
I lasted all of ten minutes before I was excusing myself. “Ladies’ room.”
Berron’s eyes narrowed, and Poppy nodded. Truin merely smiled as I gathered my gown and dragged it with me back inside and through the throng of lively bodies in the ballroom.
It trailed behind me as I wound down the halls and breezed past servers and cooks in the kitchens, then down the winding, dusty steps to the cellars as fury and frustration simmered in my veins.
The door clanged shut behind me, alerting Raiden that he had company and also plunging me into darkness. A flicker of light bounced from a sconce below the stairs as I rounded the last row of them and emerged to find the prince sprawled over sacks of grain.
Apparently making my arrival known didn’t deter him or his companion in the slightest.
I coughed, my hands scrunching. The handmaiden giggled while Raiden laid beside her, murmuring something into her ear.
“Ennis, aren’t there guest rooms you should be preparing?”
She froze, then peeked at me beneath Raiden’s arm.
He kept his attention on her, said something that made her laugh again, and then he flopped over to his back, his tunic crumpled, coat on the floor, and his smile casual. “Do you mind? We’re a little busy here.”
Ennis giggled once more, and I couldn’t stop it if I’d tried. My fingers unfurled before I could rearrange my thoughts, suctioning the air from her lungs.
Raiden cursed, eyes no longer playful but wide with shock as he hurried off the sacks of grain and raced to me. “Stop. Now.”
I couldn’t, and I wasn’t sure why. It was blinding, this hatred. This feeling of being defied in the highest order. I was her princess. He was my betrothed. “She laughed at me.”
Ennis’s hands were wrapped around her throat, her eyes twin pools of bloodshot fear.
“I am her princess, your future wife, and she laughed at me.”
“Audra.” Raiden’s hand clasped mine, warm against my cold, but I didn’t let up.
I wrenched away from him and stomped closer, my fingers spreading and forcing air back inside her lungs, but not kindly. No—all at once.
Ennis coughed, sputtering and wheezing as she doubled over onto the floor.
I felt my lips curl as I then stole her oxygen again.
And then a wave of unbearable heat sent my head spinning. I teetered, careening into a hard chest. I blinked as it drifted away, dizzy and disoriented. I was draped over the very sacks of grain the two co-conspirators had laid upon, and when I pushed up on my elbows, my dress fanning around me in waves of red, I came face to face with that of Ennis.
Raiden was handing her a goblet of wine, whispering comforting words as her shaking hand lifted it to her lips. Her eyes were still stained with red, but clear. Clear but saturated with horror as she stared at me.
“It would serve you well to quit looking at me like that, or I might just end your existence.”
Raiden sighed, then stood and helped Ennis to do the same.
The way he was helping her, soothing her when she’d conspired against me and insulted me encouraged the rage to climb back to the surface.
As if he knew, he hurried her to the stairs. “Return to work and speak nothing of what you saw and experienced here.”