“How did you meet the prince?” I asked my cousin.
His betrothed answered. “He wandered in here for a drink a few nights ago when we were leaving.”
I studied her golden complexion and the turquoise of her eyes. Pretty, I supposed, though Adran usually preferred his females bigger breasted. “And do you often find your males in taverns, Amelda?”
Her expression flattened, and Adran slid his arm around her shoulders. “She’s of the Sun Kingdom. We met a few months ago when she was… working.”
I turned to Raiden, who tipped a shoulder. “Amelda is an emissary for yours truly.”
I feigned delight and leaned forward. “So you know how it feels to put his cock inside you? Do share.”
Her eyes widened, and Adran tensed. “Mind your tongue, cousin.”
“Or what?” I sat back, my nails tapping over the wooden edging in the velvet armrest.
Raiden sighed. Pulling some coin from his pocket, he dumped them on the table and then pulled me to my feet. “I can’t take her anywhere.”
I gazed up at him as he flicked a hand to the bartender, my cousin and his betrothed staring after us with mirrored looks of distaste. “You didn’t deny it,” I said once we broke through the doors. I wrenched my hand from his as we jumped down the worn steps to the damp street.
Raiden just laughed and kept on walking.
“What?” I followed, unsure what he found so funny about any of this.
He stopped once we reached an abandoned shoe store, its faded sign swinging in the faint breeze.
Raiden glanced up at it, then at me with a look that set my hands clenching.
Then the sign fell to the street, cracking in two.
“You’re crazy. You know that?”
“It’s not my fault you’ve whored yourself out too many times.”
He spun, his bare chest illuminated beneath the slice of moonlight that crept between the shadowed shopfronts. “I’ve been alive for thirty summers more than you, Princess. I’ve stuck my cock in many a female. Pointing out whom doesn’t make me a whore; it only serves in making you appear jealous, childish, and cruel.”
His words slapped me, swaying me where I stood. “You could fuck her right now for all I care because I don’t. You’re to be my husband, not my bed partner.”
Raiden stalked back to me, his every step careful and simmering with tension. “You don’t care?”
“I loathe repeating myself, Prince.”
The biting edge left his tone. “You don’t kiss me like you don’t care.”
“I’ve kissed you twice.” I laughed. “That means nothing. I was merely carrying out an assessment. Had I have known you’d act like some whining wolf cub, I’d have stayed behind.”
“It means everything.”
“Just shut up.” I couldn’t believe him. “Look, we fight more than we talk. We’re done here. I’ll see you when it’s time.”
“Audra, don’t walk away.”
I didn’t so much as look at him as I kept on doing just that. “Like you can stop me.”
And then he did. My speed was no match for his. A second later, I was halted by his hands wrapping around my face. “You’re infuriating.”
“You’re the infuriating one.”
He shook his head, lips twitching as his eyes danced over my face. Slowly, I felt my features relax.
“We’re not done here.” He kissed my forehead, then dragged me back down the street.
“Why do you do that?” I asked, ignoring a boy trying to sell us sweetcakes when we’d reached the heart.
“Do what?” Raiden stopped and gave the boy three coins, then took two frosted cakes from the gaping child and handed me one.
I sniffed it, and upon finding nothing nefarious, I took a bite. “Kiss me.”
“Because I want to.”
Strawberry and chocolate ignited my taste buds, and I swallowed the fluffy paradise. “That’s not a reason.”
“It is.” He shoved the whole cake inside his mouth, his cheeks bulging.
I contained my laughter, just, and licked my thumb. “It isn’t.”
I’d almost finished, the frosting as sweet as it was sour, when he attempted to sway me off my feet again.
“Because you have a face that needs to be cherished. Not just for what it is, but for what it takes from inside you. You need to be kissed where you’re most beautiful.”
“To counteract where I’m most ugly,” I finished his lingering thought.
“Audra…” He grabbed my wrist outside the empty fish market.
“It’s fine. I don’t need tenderly minced words, Prince.” I licked the remaining frosting from my fingers. “They only serve to piss me off.”
“You’re not ugly inside,” he said. “You’re just…”
“I’m me,” I said with cold finality. “I’m just me. Like it or don’t, but don’t you dare try to change it or say you weren’t aware.”
He blinked, then nodded, tucking his hands inside his pockets as we neared the stairs leading to the docks of the bay. It flowed in two directions, out to sea and under a small city bridge, where it ran downhill into catchments and waterfalls that fed the rivers in the valleys below. Patches of ice crested the banks, crawling over the moss layered rocks that pockmarked the shoreline.