Before the car accident changed her life so radically, she’d studied more than the creatures of myth. She’d studied the manipulation of macroscopic energy, attempting the “impossible” on a daily basis. Like the molecular transfer of an object from one location—one world—to another, and she had succeeded. Not with life-forms, of course, not yet, but with plastic and other materials. That’s why she’d been deemed an acceptable risk for interacting with the captured beings, both dead and alive.
What if she’d somehow transferred herself? But how would she have done so, she wondered next, when the necessary tools were not in her cabin? Latent effects of her contact with the previously transferred materials, perhaps?
No. There were too many variables. Namely, her new, royal identity.
“Rhoslyn,” she said, keeping her narrowed gaze on the girl as she settled her weight on her legs. Her knees knocked together, and her muscles knotted, but thankfully the dizziness did not return.
She gave herself a quick once-over, blinked with another dose of surprise and had to look again. She wore a lovely pink gown she hadn’t purchased herself and had never before seen. The material bagged around her reed-thin body, dancing at her ankles.
Who the hell had dressed her?
Doesn’t matter. She focused on the here and now. “What do I look like?”
Rhoslyn reached out, and Jane pursed her lips as she darted away. “Please, princess, you have been unwell. Allow me to assist you.”
“Stay where you are,” Jane told her. Until she figured out what was going on, she would trust no one. And without trust, there would be no touching.
The girl froze in place. “Wh-whatever you command, princess. Did you wish me to fetch something for you?”
“No, uh, I just want to grab something from over there.” Jane lumbered forward. The carpet fibers were as soft as they appeared and caressed her bare feet, tickling the sensitive areas between her toes. She moved slowly, allowing the tension to drain from her abused legs. By the time she swiped up the book and turned, she felt normal. Still the girl had not moved, her arm extended toward the bed, shaking now. “At ease,” she found herself saying.
With a sigh of relief, Rhoslyn dropped her arm to her side. “You asked what you look like. Beautiful, princess. As always.” Said automatically, with no real feeling.
Half of Jane’s attention remained on her while the other half focused on the book. She frowned. The dark leather was unmarred. She flipped to the middle. There was no bookmark, and the pages were new, fresh. Blank. “This isn’t my book,” she said. “Where’s my book?”
“Princess Odette,” Rhoslyn replied smoothly. “To my knowledge, you did not arrive with a book. Now, would you like—?”
“Wait. What did you call me?”
“Pr-princess Odette? That is your title and name. Yes? Did you wish me to call you something else? Or, perhaps I can summon the healer, and have her—”
“No. No, that’s okay.” Princess Odette, returned from the grave. Jane had read those very words. She’d also read, “You, Jane Parker. You are Odette.”
She twisted and leaned into the vanity, watching her reflection in the mirror. The moment she came into view, she stiffened. Light brown hair flowed over one shoulder. Her hair. Familiar. Her dark eyes were glassy, crescent-moon bruises underneath. Also familiar.
She reached out. Her fingertips pressed into the glass. Cool, solid. Real. If she lifted her gown, she would see the scars that marred her stomach and legs. She knew it.
She hadn’t morphed into Princess Odette overnight, then. Or, hell, maybe she and the princess looked alike.
“How did I get here?” she croaked, swinging back around to face the girl.
I need you, Jane.
Nicolai. She sucked in a breath as his name suddenly filled her mind. Nicolai the enslaved vampire, chained, abused. Nicolai the lover, sliding into her body, her legs parting to welcome him, then squeezing to hold him captive.
Come to me.
Come to him, as if he knew her. As if she knew him. But she’d never met him. At least, not to her knowledge.
Such a thing was possible, she supposed. Paradox theory suggested—damn it. No. She wasn’t going to hypothesize about paradox theory until she had more information. Otherwise, she’d be lost in her head for days.
Rhoslyn paled. “Yesterday evening a palace guard found you lying on the steps outside. He carried you here, to your bedchamber. You’ll be happy to note it is in the same condition you left it.”
Falling asleep at home, waking up…here. Princess Odette, returned from the grave, she thought again. Alice in her Wonderland.
“I hope you do not mind, but I bathed and changed you,” Rhoslyn added.
White-hot heat in her cheeks. Plenty of strangers had bathed and changed her over the past eleven months, and she was relieved Rhoslyn had done so, rather than some sweating, panting guy. Still. Mortifying. “Where’s my shirt?”
“It’s being washed. I must admit, I have never seen its like. There was strange writing on it.”
She closed the book and clutched it to her chest. “I want it back.” Just then, it was her only link to home.
“Of course. After I escort you to your mother, I—oh, I’m sorry. I did not mean to mention her again. I will take you to…the study below and fetch the garment for you.” Before Jane could comment, Rhoslyn added through gnashed teeth, “I am so happy—as are all your people—that you have come back to us. We missed you greatly.”
A lie, no question. “Wh-where was I?”
“Your sister, Princess Laila, witnessed your fall from the cliffs what seems an eternity ago. After you were stabbed and drained by your new slave. Though your body was never found, it was assumed you were dead, as no one has ever survived such a drop before. We should have known that you, the darling of Delfina, would find a way.” She flashed a stiff smile that lasted a single second, no more.
Princess Laila. That name, too, reverberated in Jane’s head, followed on the heels of “cruel, twisted desires.”
“Nicolai,” she said. Was he here? Real?
The servant chewed on her bottom lip, suddenly nervous. “You wish me to bring the slave, Nicolai, to you?”
Jane’s blood quickened and warmed, her skin tingling just as before. The girl knew who he was. That meant he was here, that he was as real as she was.
Her mind fizzed and crackled like her favorite candy. The book. The characters. The story, coming to life before her eyes…Jane now a part of it, deeply integrated, though she was someone other than herself. Finally. A puzzle piece slid into place.