Preyuna contemplated Isellta in the semi-dark. His soft, touchable hair. The shape of his face. The shape of his mouth. He is beautiful and desirable. But he isn’t my Nayla. He isn’t even Ilstheena.
Isellta looked at her with fearful expectation. His fear was as plain as plain, no way to mistake it for anything else. He did a very poor job of hiding it. Preyuna wondered if he was even trying. I doubt it. He doesn’t care about how he hurts me, much less if he hurts me. All that matters to him is his ugly, worthless vampire. Cruel, stupid boy. Ilstheena was never like that. I mattered to him. He adored me.
I loved him.
I still do. I would surrender almost anything to see Ilstheena again, to hear his voice, to feel his touch. To see him smile at me. To dance with him again. She slid her hand from Isellta’s waist down to his hip. To hrrash ka kae with Ilstheena again. But I was the one who sent him away.
He inhaled a sharp breath. The fear in his eyes became more apparent, even in the room’s incomplete darkness.
“That fear.” she said. “Always that fear.”
He quickly averted his gaze.
“Look at me, Isellta.”
He shivered and did not obey her command.
Preyuna narrowed her eyes into a glare. She grabbed his shoulders and forced him onto his back.
He cried out in panic.
“Look at me. LOOK AT ME!”
His shivering worsened. “Please. Please. Please…don’t.”
“LOOK AT ME!” She punched his shoulder.
He whimpered and tried to curl into a ball, but she held onto his shoulders.
“LOOK AT ME, ISELLTA!”
His whimpering took on a deeply distressed tone.
Preyuna closed her eyes and took a moment to calm down. “See me. See just me. Me as I am. Not as how you fear me. I am more than that.” She opened her eyes. “And I am less than that. I am lost, Isellta. I am homeless. I am so dangerously close to hopeless. I have no one here. No one who can comfort me the way I need to be comforted. All I do have is you. A foolish, stupid boy who wants something unworthwhile, something low and detestable.”
His whimpering softened. “I—I…I’m…I’m sorry? I d—don’t…” His gaze kept trying to flick away from her, but he pulled it back to her every time.
She didn’t know how to feel about that. She only knew that it felt like both a win and a loss. Everything I say to him, everything I do to him…It’s all another step back. One more step away from him. Another step forward for him — leading him closer to Robin and away from me.
There’s only one way I can win his respect, but it would mean giving up on him. If I told him the truth…If I took him down to see that filthy vampire and removed all of the barriers between them…She frowned. But for what? Isellta can’t leave yet. Her frown deepened. Robin would volunteer to stay. I know he would. Isellta would be delighted by that.
And I would have to endure their happiness while I am still separated from the one I love. Her wings emerged from her back. Her feathers bristled. They would be happy and I would be stuck with just Mark Caten. How would that even be fair or right? Why should they be happy while I suffer?
Tears trailed down the sides of his face. “What…what do you want me to do, Your Majesty?”
Her feathers relaxed and her wings returned to the inside of her back. “Hug me, Isellta. Hold me close, so I can fall asleep.”
He shuffled closer to Preyuna and embraced her. “As you wish.”