Any ability Synda possessed had been buried when she’d obtained the demon. Josephina had heard stories, though, and thought her half sister had once been able to turn any inanimate object into gold.
The king looked Josephina over with those eyes of crystal blue. Oh, how she despised the color. She much preferred Kane’s eyes, jade and amber—and she had to stop thinking about him, didn’t she? Their association was over. She wouldn’t be seeing him again. He wouldn’t want to see her. Not after what she’d done to him.
Regret clawed at her. Already she mourned the loss of him. The strong, beautiful warrior who’d come to save her.
A small cry parted her lips.
“Have you nothing to say for yourself, Servant Josephina?” King Tiberius demanded. “You caused us all kinds of trouble.”
“Yes, you should be on your knees right now,” Queen Penelope said, flicking an invisible piece of lint from the skirt of her dress. “Begging for our forgiveness.”
Ignoring the burn of rejection accompanying those words, Josephina kept her gaze on her father. Though he was hundreds of years old, he looked almost as young as she was. He had silver-white hair, unblemished skin, and enough muscle to snap the bones of any man.
“I’m angry with you, girl. You didn’t return on your own. You had to be hunted, wasting time, energy and resources.”
“I was being chased by demons.” It was the truth.
He flicked his tongue over an incisor. “Excuses aren’t to be tolerated.”
She gulped, and wisely kept her mouth shut.
“However, I am feeling benevolent, and will not punish you. This time. But if you ever again try to deprive my precious daughter of her blood rights, whatever the reason, I’ll be forced to hobble you for the rest of your life.”
I’m your precious daughter, too, her heart cried. The only difference was, the queen wasn’t her mother.
Murmurs of excitement erupted behind her. The people wanted to see her hobbled.
The queen petted the ribbon of fur hanging from the collar of her gown. “We sent guards to await you at the exit to hell. Did you kill them?”
“No. The demons must have done it, because there was no one waiting for me.”
“Ugh. Demons,” said Princess Synda.
Josephina met her sister’s gaze.
The girl blinked. All innocence. Zero remorse.
A quintessential Fae, Synda had her white curls twined with a wide, arching headdress of crystal spears. Her luminous eyes were framed by sharp sweeps of sapphire shadow, and currently without any hint of the red the demon caused when it acted up. Her cheeks were brushed with the dust of rubies, and her lips with the flakes of diamonds.
She displayed moments of utter sweetness, like now, followed by looong stretches of utter nastiness. She obeyed no rules, not even her own, and always acted without thought or concern for anything or anyone.
Josephina was younger by several hundred years, and at the time of her birth, Synda already contained the demon. The stories she’d heard about the princess’s past, about what the female had been like before the possession, had shocked her. Apparently, there had been no one more kind, concerned and happy.
How much had Disaster changed Kane?
You’re thinking about him again.
Tiberius slammed the scepter into the floor, a loud boom shaking the entire room. “You will concentrate on the proceedings, Servant Josephina, or I’ll have to make an example out of you.”
“Maybe she likes it when you punish her,” the queen said with an evil grin. “Maybe that’s why she tempts you to give her more.”
Josephina shuddered. “Just…let me go. Please.”
The king leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “Have I not been good to you? Have I not given you a home? A worthy purpose?”
The queen smirked.
Synda selected a pastry from the tray beside her.
Leopold shook his head in regret.
I won’t cry. Not again.
Tiberius sighed. “Take her to the dungeon. I can see the desire to run in your eyes, girl. You will be locked away until you’ve realized how well I’ve treated you—and how much worse it can be for you.”
The Opulens cheered.
She opened her mouth to protest, but closed it with a snap. Speaking after judgment had been handed down would only earn her further chastisement.
As she was dragged away, she heard another guard say to the king, “Two immortal warriors were following Servant Josephina. We left them in the forest, but placed a tracker on their equipment. What would you have us do with them?”
Though she didn’t hear the king’s answer, Josephina mewled with dismay.
* * *
THE WHOOSH OF a whip sounded, followed by screams of pain. Josephina flinched as every blow landed on the man on the other side of the crumbling stone wall.
Her poor arms were chained over her head, her fingers ice-cold from pitiable circulation. Once again she was sandwiched between two men. Only, these two weren’t guards. They were prisoners, like her, and they’d made the grievous mistake of owning land the king wanted for himself.
They, too, had their arms chained over their heads, but they were either unconscious or dead. They had been deprived of food for so long, their bodies were emaciated. And they had gone unwashed for years. Oh, the stench…
Footsteps pounded, and the dungeon master stalked around the corner. Prince Leopold smiled at her, genuine affection gleaming in his crystalline eyes. Like Princess Synda, he had curling white hair. Unlike Synda, he was tall, taller than their father, and leanly toned. Eligible Opulens were always drooling and panting for him.
He stopped in front of Josephina and pinched a lock of her hair between his blood-splattered fingers. “Did you miss me, little flower?” he asked, warm breath fanning over her face.
“Not even a bit,” she replied truthfully. “If you want the brutal truth of the matter, it was my hope we’d never see each other again.”
A muscle ticked in his jaw, a testament of his anger. First point, Servant Josephina. “Give yourself to me, and the king will no longer use you as Synda’s substitute.”
I’d rather die—obviously. “Even if that were true, which it’s not, my answer would be the same—never. Does that work for you?”
His lashes fused together, leaving only tiny slits. “Why don’t you want me? I’m desirable.”
Where to begin? Oh, yeah. “You’re my brother.”
“Only by blood.”
Was that all? “Well, you disgust me. How about that?”