I wasn’t in the mood to play, so I carefully slid beneath the duvet and rolled over. Watching the moon crawl across his wide back, I noticed the thick line of scars upon it ran parallel to one another, and the muscles that seemed to clench beneath them, even while he slept.
Sooner than I’d expected, thoughts of what could have been and what should never have been followed me into a restless sleep.
Tickled by the slight breeze, the engraved wooden sign squeaked on its hinges.
Cursed Pints appeared no different to the first and last time I’d entered the deceiving blackened with damp doors. I nodded to Ainx and Azela, indicating they were to stay on the rain-scented street.
The wood protested beneath my boots as I climbed the steps and crossed the thin porch, swinging the doors open. The interior was much the same, only this time, I wasn’t shocked by the white armchairs and chaises, the sparkling glassware and sitting tables, or the gleaming white expanse of the bar.
The bartender and owner, who I now knew was named Eli, dipped his head when he saw me. He approached wearing high-waisted slacks and a spotted black and white shirt with suspenders. His dark hair seemed to change shades of blue beneath the globes of light hanging from chandeliers in the ceiling.
I leaned against the wall by the door, thankful the bar was empty of patrons until after noon.
“Majesty,” he murmured, a careful gleam to his bright green eyes. “She is still where your guards left her in the basement, but I must ask if—”
“Has she been causing trouble?”
He shook his head. “Not exactly, but she’s—”
“Has she been asking for him?”
“Yes, though it’s odd,” he rushed out. I angled my head, allowing him to continue. “She eats all her meals and washes when permitted, but otherwise, she doesn’t really act as a prisoner should.”
I let that sit inside my mind, absorbing it slowly. The urge to discover more about this woman became a burn I wanted to soothe. “Interesting,” I said. “Where is the key?”
Eli’s brows lifted. “You wish to free her?”
I laughed. “Oh, no.” I crept closer and patted his arm. “I wish to imprison her in the darkness but not just yet.”
At that, Eli’s almost translucent skin paled even further. He swallowed, and I patted his arm again. “Key. Hurry it up.”
He scampered off behind the bar, and I meandered over the varnished wood floor to trail my fingers over the jeweled stones that sat on display on a crisp white shelf. I’d never been one for too much jewelry, but I did covet fine things.
A jingling sound snapped my attention from a sapphire stone.
I took the key from Eli, smiling at how he struggled to meet my gaze. “Much obliged.”
He nodded, backing up a step and bobbing his head. “If you need anything…”
“Where did you find the stones?”
Eli looked over at them, scratching his hairless chin. “They are from The Edges, Majesty. Would you like one? Take your pick. I can package it—”
I raised my hand. “No. That’s quite all right.” My interest in them sagged and died. I swept past him to the hall on the right side of the bar, shadows swallowing me until I’d reached the last door on the end.
It was made of iron, probably to better protect the gallons of wine, spirits, lager, and goddesses knew what else. I pressed the key against the hole and heard the mechanism unlatch, metal grinding over metal, and then a poof of air.
Undoubtedly heavy, I waved a hand to open it. Dust and flecks of paint powdered the air as it slammed into the wall. I moved over the small landing to the stairs and descended, tucking the key inside a hidden pocket of my emerald velvet gown.
I waited until I’d reached the bottom where a small lantern swayed before I closed the door. Barrels and baskets and crates were stacked in every corner and against every wall of the room. I moved to the center where a cage, smaller than the one her beloved was kept in, sat square.
She didn’t so much as glance up as the heels of my boots struggled to clack over the dusty floor. “You finally decided to visit.” Her voice was sweet. Deceptive in the way it was both gentle and fierce.
“Casilla,” I said, feeling the name roll over the edge of my tongue. “Sweet, stupid Casilla.”
She said nothing, didn’t even move as I prowled closer.
Her homespun skirts were in dirty tatters, torn around the hem. As was her peasant white blouse, its ruffles and pearl buttons brushed with brown. Her red hair was still luminous, but the roots and curls were lathered in oil.
Peering around, I motioned for an empty drum, catching and flipping it as I took a seat before her. “I’m afraid I’ve been busy.”