“I have guests that I need to at least stare at.”
Raiden grinned, his hand rough and smooth as he pulled me with him toward the castle gates. “They’ll still be here.” He glanced at the fountains, at the people dancing and loitering in groups around them. “Until the sun rises, by the looks of it.”
I relented, and soon, we were drifting through the gates and into the cobblestone streets beyond.
The hill was steep, and I wasn’t wearing any footwear, but Raiden thankfully slowed his pace as we passed trade stalls tucked into weed-flecked corners, darkened windows, and wound onto even darker avenues. “The heart is that way,” I said, pointing down a cart-lined street toward the main street leading to the castle.
I scowled at his back as he continued to drag me through alleyways.
Murmurs of, “Royal highness, Princess, and Prince,” followed us at every other turn, but we didn’t stop, for which I was glad. Not because I thought they were beneath me. I knew they were. But because I loathed small talk and would rather not pretend to be interested in people and creatures that did not interest me at all.
We’d reached the far west side of the city before Raiden slowed outside a dank, crumpled structure called Cursed Pints.
“I figured you’d rather not join me in the cellar again.” Raiden circled me as I stood before three sagging steps. “So a tavern it is.”
“We could’ve just had one of the—”
He stopped before me, a finger raised. “Ah, but that’s custom. This”—he gestured to the building, if you could call it that—“is not. And I’m dying to see you down a pint.”
“Do you mean lager?”
Raiden chuckled, and I blinked as I studied his cheeks, his perfect teeth, and his bright eyes. “That you even need to ask that means we’ve made the right decision by coming here.”
I raised a brow, half wishing his hand was still in mine. “I’ll be the judge of that.” I shouldered by him and carefully carried myself up the stairs and straight inside the swinging doors.
My eyes grew as decay gave way to chandeliers and bright white countertops.
Royals and mixed mingled, dancing in the center of the room or huddled and draped over the lounge chairs and chaises that lined it. Behind a countertop that spread across the entirety of the large space, an indigo-haired male with sea green eyes dipped and winked our way while drying a glass with a pink rag.
“The look on your face,” Raiden said, laughter coating every syllable, “priceless.”
“Where are we?”
He lifted two fingers to the bartender. “Exactly as the sign stated, Cursed Pints.”
“Is this allowed?” I threw him an accusing glare.
He frowned. “It’s been here for several hundred years. Yes, it’s allowed. It’s a tavern, silk. Not a hidden brothel.”
Brothels were permitted in the kingdom but not within the castle quarter or among the villages. They typically set up shop out of sight but usually within distance of well-traveled roads.
“Prince,” one of the males on a divan by a crackling fire called. “You’ve returned.”
I narrowed my eyes at the long-haired blond and the female next to him. They were royals.
“Adran,” I said.
His bored eyes flicked to me. “Cousin.”
The female next to him was a new addition, and though I was curious, I didn’t let on.
Raiden slapped his hands together. “Come, sit.” With a hand at my back, he encouraged me to the armchairs opposite my cousin and his companion, a tiny glass table between us.
The brunette female eyed me a moment and then ducked her head. “Honored, Princess.”
“Who are you?” Well, so much for acting nonchalant.
Raiden thanked the bartender, who’d delivered two glass tankards of lager on a glinting silver tray. He bowed, then retreated.
“Still so brash,” Adran tutted. “This is Amelda, my betrothed.”
“Your betrothed?” I all but spat. Raiden’s smirk was a tisk I wished to squash, buzzing over my profile as I glared at Adran. “Does your mother know of this?”
Adran flapped a hand, then tugged his gold shirt from his chest, canines gleaming. “Mother is too busy with lover number nine to care about much else.”
Sarine was my mother’s sister, but ever since her death, she chose not to appear at court unless she had to. Like many others. If she thought my father didn’t notice, she was very much mistaken. Being that our family tree didn’t extend far these years, it didn’t exactly look good to have our few relatives absent whenever they so desired.
“Sarine needs to be careful,” I warned
“A threat?” Adran took a swig of what looked to be flavored liquor. “Let us drink some more before the foreplay begins.”
“You’re still an idiot.”
He smiled, his drink hand swinging out. “And you’re still a beautiful, ice-infused bitch.”
Raiden growled. “That will be enough.”
All eyes darted to him, and I startled to find his teeth gnashing, his neck and jaw tight.