Isellta tried to stay strong. He kept his head up. He kept his expression as calm as he could manage. His wings lay flat on his back, but he wasn’t going to even try to flap them. That would have been going too far.
And he didn’t feel up to it.
It would have been a very lackluster flap at best, anyway.
He didn’t look back at Jay. That was the hardest thing. He didn’t think Jay was hurt. But he didn’t know if he wasn’t.
He tried to stay strong for both himself and for Jay.
Preyuna stopped outside her bedroom door.
Isellta couldn’t help it. He looked back.
Jay sat up.
Isellta fluttered his wings with relief. “He’s okay. My dear Jay is okay.”
The guard met Isellta’s gaze. He didn’t speak. He didn’t cry. He just sat there, terribly lost and sad. And it was like he’d slammed a sword into Isellta.
Isellta curled his arms against his chest.
Preyuna opened the door. “Come.” She guided him inside and turned on the overhead light.
Isellta shivered as he scanned the room.
I don’t want to be in here. This was all a horrible mistake. I need to get out. I need to get out! The nae bi shas will find me again. They’ll grab at me. They’ll tear at my wings. And no one will see it. No one will know. Just me. I’ll be the only one who knows. I’m always the only one who knows.
She closed the door. “Come to the bed before you fall down.”
He nodded, too terrified to speak. But his legs refused to behave themselves. They wanted to move like a fresh drunk plunked on a boat in the middle of the ocean – wobbling and weebling every which way. His feet wanted to trip each other.
But Preyuna held onto him. Her arm surrounded his waist. Her fingers pressed against him. She led him to the bed.
It took all of his self-control to refrain from screaming and squirming away from her.
This is my fault. I made this choice even though I know what she’ll do.
She stopped beside the bed.
I know what she’ll do!
A small, fearful note escaped him.
I know what she wants to do and she’ll do it. She’ll do it. She’ll always do it.
She gave him a hard look.
Isellta sat on the bed before his legs could call it quits. “So.” He lowered his hands to his lap and twisted his fingers. “What happens now?”
She sat beside him. “You don’t have to be so afraid of me, Isellta. I am not the villain here. Mark Caten is. The sooner he’s gone,” She brushed her knuckles along his cheekbone. “the sooner we can all go back to normal.”
“Normal?” He tilted his head.
“Mm-hmm. I will go home and…” Something subtle changed in her expression.
His fingers stilled. “You look sad. Why are you so sad?”
“Have you seen what I live with?” She shook her head. “Never mind. It’s nothing. I will go home and be the queen I once was.”
She won’t hurt me this time. She isn’t angry enough. But…she is still sad.
Isellta laid his hand along the side of her face, startling her. “It’s okay.” he said gently.
She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch. “It isn’t. And it can’t be okay. It will never be okay. I just want to go home.”
“As do I.”
Preyuna quickly moved her face from his hand. Her wings emerged and flittered. She regarded him with blatant suspicion.
He hesitantly lowered his hand. “I don’t understand? Did I do something wrong?”
She flapped her wings and pulled them into her back. “No. It’s just…It has been a long time since a man has touched me with kindness.”
“Oh. I’m so very sorry.”
Preyuna could still feel the heat of his touch, the gentleness of his hand. “It isn’t fair. Why can’t Mark Caten be like you? Why does he have to be so hateful and cruel?”
And why can’t you love me? Why Robin? Why do you have to love Robin?
“I don’t know.” Isellta said. “I don’t know why he is like that. It doesn’t make sense. You’re so lovely.”
The compliment was unexpected and genuine. Preyuna hardly knew how to react to it.
Maybe. Maybe I should tell him where Robin is. Maybe I should tell him that I concealed Robin. Maybe I should lower my magic. Maybe I should let them see each other again.
She turned her head and stared angrily at the door.
Mark would find out. He always finds out these things. And he would hurt more than the hair on my head.
Besides, if Isellta sees Robin, he will completely want him. He’ll forget me.
WHY IS MY LIFE LIKE THIS?
Why can’t I be wanted by someone good, someone decent? Why can’t Isellta just want me?
“Did I offend you? If I did—-”
She made an impatient hand gesture. “It’s nothing.”
But it’s okay. It’s all a matter of time. Vampires were not meant to be long-term prisoners. Robin will break before the week is even over. He’ll be lucky if he lasts three days.
“Your Majesty? May I ask if Robin is downstairs?”
“Why? Because you thought you smelled him? Because you thought you sensed him?”
“I didn’t…” Isellta frowned. “I didn’t think it. I did.”
“Are you really so sure, Isellta?” As Preyuna said the words, she hated herself a little. “Maybe he isn’t down there. Maybe he isn’t here at all.” She tucked his blond hair behind his ear. In her mind, though, it was blue-gray. “Maybe you’re just lonely.”
Nayla held her hand as they entered the ballroom. It was a privilege she extended to a select few of her harem members.
“You miss him so much.” Preyuna said.
She found him outside on the balcony overlooking the gardens. He rested his elbows on the railing and lazily flapped his wings.
“Just the thought of possibly seeing him again hurts.”
“Your Majesty?” Nayla’s voice was soft with sorrow. “It is time.”
Preyuna wanted to watch him walk away, but she knew it would break her. She entered Mark Caten’s mansion. She didn’t look back.
“It hurts enough to break through your skin.”
Isellta gently touched her arm. “I’m sorry.”
Preyuna looked at him in surprise. She knew she hadn’t said anything out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing that would reveal her own wounded heart. She wasn’t crying. Her voice was steady. Her expression was neutral. She couldn’t see it, but she just knew that it was neutral. And her mental barrier was up and impenetrable.
So, what does he see? What does he know?
Isellta carefully leaned towards her, almost as if he expected her to shove him away. He touched his forehead against her upper arm. “I know it doesn’t make you happy, but I miss him so much. I’m scared that he’s down there right now, hurt and unwell. And I don’t know if you will ever tell me if he is here.”
This is my chance to tell him. It’s the right moment. It’s the perfect moment. Oh, he’d be so happy!
But he won’t want me. He already doesn’t, but that would completely seal the deal.
She stroked his hair. “Don’t worry, Isellta. I will let you know if I do see him.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”