I’d expected to grab him by the neck or the hair and haul him out of there.
I’d expected not to feel anything other than the winter-crusted slice of rage that held the tattered pieces of my heart together.
What I didn’t expect was for my boots to catch in a crack of concrete, twisting my ankle as he turned from his position in front of some priest and narrowed his eyes at me.
Time came to a crashing halt, rewinding and fast-forwarding all at once.
Breathe with me, silk.
He blinked, taking a slow step back.
Come undone for me, silk.
Air wheezed out of me, shallowing my lungs and electrifying the dead organ in my chest.
Hair a shade darker than soot curled around his hairline, dusting his brown cheeks. His lean form had broadened. Hardened. Muscles had grown muscles upon his shoulders and his biceps, where a tribal tattoo of a flaming sun wrapped around the taut skin.
Mintale’s hand touched mine. “Majesty?”
Tugged back to the nightmare of reality, I snatched my hand away. “Seize him.”
Raiden tore his green eyes from my face. Confusion swept his brows together as he looked at Mintale.
“The queen,” someone gasped.
Chatter sounded from the few patrons in the pews, the aging priest nothing but a statue as his robes began to flutter around him.
“It couldn’t be,” said another. “Here?”
I steadied my breathing, and the breeze that’d trailed us inside the ancient structure settled.
That was, until the woman beside Raiden shrieked.
“Who in the darkness are you?” Raiden moved to stand in front of his betrothed, and the sight was enough to have the rafters creaking.
Her hair was the color of a raging fire, and her eyes that of the dark Gray Sea. She was pretty, I’d give her that much, but pretty was no match for the wrath of betrayal.
Did they think they could get away with such disrespect? Granted, Raiden would have no clue who I was, but the wide-eyed swine cowering behind him did.
Before Raiden’s hands could touch her, I swept them behind his back, and he cursed. “What is the meaning of this?”
“You will come with me.” I turned for the doors, my cloak billowing behind me. “Or the pretty fool dies.”
“Raid,” the woman said, and I spun back. One look and her mouth was sealed in ice, incapable of opening.
She should consider herself lucky that was all I did.
Mintale grabbed Raiden by the arm. “She is her majesty, the queen, and you would do well to invest more time in learning such things rather than finding a young wench to wed.”
I nearly snorted at Mintale’s attempt to defend my weak heart. He needn’t have bothered. It was dead a long time ago.
We made it down the steps before the commotion began. “Unhand me. I’ve done nothing wrong!”
“You’ve done everything one could possibly do wrong.” I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t trust myself to.
“No. Wait.” A group of dirt-marred faces scrambled closer. “There must be some mistake.”
“Believe me,” I said, pushing by the stench, “the mistake was all mine.”
No one helped Raiden as they saw him curse and struggle in Mintale’s grasp.
Once upon a time, Raiden could’ve killed Mintale with but a thought. That was before Truin wiped him clean of everything he once was and left him with a bland memory of a male with a different life, a different world, and a different heart.
Stopping, I peered around at the gathered crowd, who began to slowly inch back.
“Come.” I clicked my fingers at two men drinking lager in front of a tavern. They drained and dropped their tankards and stomped over the wet soil toward us. “Carry this…” I waved at Raiden. “This traitorous thing for me.”
With two sloppy bows, they then hurried to wrestle the struggling six-foot-three giant from Mintale. We made it to the field before it dawned on Mintale just how difficult the journey home would be with a distressed, angry male to drag with us.
“Be gone,” I told the two gents. Only when they’d scuttled back to the dirt road did I then turn my eyes to my heart’s demise.
His face was a shade darker, the golden hue darkening with dust, his ire, and the growing night. I could practically smell it and tried not to let my satisfaction show. “You.”
“Me,” he said, nostrils flaring, pupils overgrown. “Queen or not, you must be one truly despicable creature to disrupt one’s wedding ceremony. I demand you release me.” His teeth slammed together as he growled, “Now.”
“Or what?” I raised a brow, blinking slowly.
His bearded jaw hardened, and like fingers over a swath of silk, I remembered trailing my own over his freshly shaven skin.
His plush lips rose into a grin that once made me see red before seeing every star in the night sky within his arms—and then he was running.
Mintale sighed, coming to a stop beside me. “Shall I?”