I chewed on my fingernail as Darrius’ words about an assassination plot stomped around in my mind. Even though I’d only been a queen for a few days, didn’t mean that I knew what the hell I was doing or that there wasn’t unrest with me on the throne. Doubtful the Seelie and many of the Unseelie liked the fact I was striving for peace between the kingdoms.
I’d been wrong about the Fae. And maybe the Seelie and Unseelie were mistaken about each other too. I didn’t think either side was wholly evil or wholly good.
And I owed it to the Unseelie who raised me to see this through. I sat on my bed, wrapping my arms around my knees as I remembered my mom’s smile. How she loved singing off-key and said the songs were the wrong pitch. Or how she always made sure I had books to read and we’d spend hours in the library and go home with our arms full. And how we always split dessert whenever we ate at a fancy restaurant for my birthday and made our own Christmas decorations every year.
After she died, I stared at her pictures, willing the image of her cut down and bleeding to be a horrible nightmare.
I didn’t even know her real name or what type of Unseelie she’d been.
God, I missed her so much. Even after all these years. Even after learning she wasn’t my real mom—wasn’t even human. I never knew the truth of her identity until Simeon and the others told me. I’d been floored that the very creatures I spent over a decade, after her death, learning to hunt and kill had been her people.
Tears burned my eyes and I breathed through the pain making my chest feel like I’d inhaled blades of ice.
Why hadn’t she destroyed me? Murdered me in my sleep. I was vulnerable and a child, yet she had raised me, loved me.
I gasped out a cry as my chest tightened so hard it hurt. I laid down on my bed, moving my hands to my face and cried. For the first time since learning the truth, I let myself grieve again for the only mother I’d ever known. With the knowledge that she’d been one of those I had considered my enemy and killed. How she’d have been so disappointed in me that I had allowed my hatred and prejudice at who I thought was my enemy, paint everyone else.
* * *
My eyes stung eyes from crying so much and found myself alone on my bed. A faint light shone through the windows. Not enough for it to be sunrise, but close enough. I must have fallen asleep crying last night.
The pain of my mom’s death still clung to me, but I welcomed it. And even thought whatever Unseelie she’d been, she would always be Mom to me.
I pulled the extra blanket around me and shuffled out of bed, gasping when my feet touched the freezing stone floor. Only a few embers were left in the hearth. Had neither Darrius nor Simeon come to my chambers during the night?
Malcolm was gone Earthside to deal with their bars. They’d thought to close them after finding me, since that was their main purpose, but there was still the issue of the missing women. Every time they had given a human the elixir to tell if she was their missing queen, the women had disappeared within forty-eight hours.
It was why I had gone to Malcolm’s bar that fated night, to find out what type of Fae he was and kill him.
I poked the fire with the metal stick, stirring a few faint embers back to life. What I wouldn’t give for electricity and a good heater right now.
My wings stirred along my back and I shivered. That was another thing I had to get used to. Wings.
Never saw that coming or falling in love with three Fae princes.
I shook my head and wrapped the blanket tighter around me as I shuffled over the cold stones to throw more wood in the hearth, but there were zero logs in the fire basket. My stomach growled, evidently thinking that it was time for breakfast even though the sun hadn’t yet risen.
A snack and some wood in the kitchen sounded amazing. Leaving my chambers, I strolled down the empty hallways and bumped into a wooden trolley. Pain shot up my calf and I rubbed my leg, hopping on one foot. Somehow, I was going to bring electricity to this Fae castle or figure out how to use magic to light up pathways.
The kitchen was dark and quiet. Shouldn’t the cooks be up now making fresh bread and prepping for the day? Glowing embers winked from the hearth. I tossed in one of the logs making embers hiss and pop. Hopefully, the fire would catch since this place didn’t have any matches and I didn’t trust my newly-found magic to light the wood myself.
From the corner of my eye, I thought a shadow drifted along the far wall, but when I turned to look, nothing was there. Just my eyes playing tricks.
I moved to the larder and hunted for anything to eat. There were dozens of jars of dried bean-type things. Flour, herbs hanging overhead, and salt. Nothing easy. What I wouldn’t give for a chocolate bar right now. Mom had hated chocolate. Even the smell used to make her face itchy and she’d scrunch up her nose in distaste.
The pang of her loss hit me again and I gasped. Before when I first saw Simeon, I’d thought my mother’s killer was before me. Same long white hair, same violet eyes. It had been his father, a Fae, who had found us in the tunnel that day. And when Simeon said she hadn’t been my real mother I’d been in shock. Numb.
I’d gone my whole life hating Fae. Hunting them after mom died to learn that I was one of them and she’d been on the Unseelie side where even the Fae here thought of them as monsters. Except she hadn’t been evil. I swallowed the lump swelling into my throat. If only I’d known before she died what she was…what I was. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her. Like why had she kidnapped me? And why had she let me live rather than kill me?
One way to find out answers was to make an alliance between the Seelie and Unseelie. It was the least I could do. Payback in honor of my mother for loving me by giving her people a chance.
And Maggie had ventured over there. I shook my head. My best friend was a tech-goddess and my right-hand woman. She supplied me with the cool weapons I’d used to take down many Fae. She was the brains, and I was the brawn—never realized where my inhuman strength had actually come from until now. Before, I’d thought maybe Mom had an affair with a Fae since there was never a dad in the picture.
Whenever I had asked, she told me he was a soldier in the war and had been killed in the act of duty. She’d get a wistful look in her corn-flower blue eyes. The only thing I knew about him was his name, Jerald.
I froze. What if he was real? An Unseelie that I could find. Even if he was dead, I could talk to anyone who knew him and discover more about my mom. She’d told me her name was Vanessa, but none of the Seelie had ever heard of anyone with that name so I’d guessed she’d lied about it to keep me safe.
But I’d never asked any of the Unseelie about her or Jerald. I could discover her kind and figure out why she’d kept me alive. Why she’d done so much for me when I was the daughter of her enemy.
A thump sounded in the kitchen and relief washed over me. Finally, one of the cooks had arrived and could help. I hurried out of the larder and my stomach rumbled. “Sorry, I was looking for something to ea—”
No one was there. A prickling sensation danced down my spine. My senses, all the ones I’d honed after my mom gave up her life to protect me, screamed.
Someone or something was in here with me. Stalking me.
I cursed out a breath, quickly glancing for a weapon. Of course, there wouldn’t be any iron or silver in the kitchens. Too dangerous to keep metals that could harm the Fae here. Instead, I grabbed a bronze knife from a wooden drawer and kept the wall to my back.
“Come on out, I know you’re there,” I taunted. It had been months since I fought, but Darrius kept me fit with daily training both in the weapon’s room and in the bedroom. This was one of the things that I lived for—striking down bad Fae.
Rumbling growls answered me from every direction. Okay, so this was new. Didn’t know a Fae that could scatter their voice like that.
I gripped the knife tighter, sweat making an itchy trail down my back.
The shadows in the kitchen darkened, blocking out any trace of light from the crackling fire. I dropped the blanket from around my shoulders. My teeth chattered as I stood holding the knife in my thin nightgown.
A black tentacle whipped from the floor and latched onto my ankle.
I shrieked, flinching away at first.
“Gross.” I tugged on my ankle to get free, but the slimy arm just wrapped higher around my leg, nearly knocking me off my feet. I grabbed onto the counter with my free hand. If I’d been a human and not Fae it would’ve succeeded.
I jammed the blade into the dark flesh. Inky black blood oozed out along with a smell of burning pitch. I choked on the stench.
Holding my nose with one hand, I stabbed again and again into the tentacle holding me.
Another black arm whipped around my arm and the knife clattered to the floor.
Damn it! I kicked and wrestled with the sticky arms, but only more came up out of the floor, latching onto my other leg. The creature jerked hard and I fell to the floor. My chin striking the hard stone floor.
“Help! Darrius! Simeon,” I screamed as more and more tentacles rose up from the floor, covering me, making the world around me vanish.