Tonight I’d submit to Prince Renaud, or fight.
I glimpsed the Prince, High Lord of House Montague, my enemy. My mother’s killer, my brother’s jailor. The thief of my childhood and the potential usurper of my future.
His wintry moonstone gaze scythed through the crowd, staring through me as if I were the ghost of someone he hadn’t murdered yet.
There was no anger, just chilling calculation, as if he was weighing the worth of my life against the trouble required to end it, a whisper of malevolence as he stared with the focus of a demi-god contemplating the annihilation of an ant.
He wore stark court attire; black, white and silver, nearly modern. Though there was nothing modern about the fall of black hair down his back, pointed ears peeking from underneath.
No one wore their hair that long anymore except for the Old Ones. Someone needed to drag him kicking and screaming into this century.
I almost lifted my hand to volunteer.
My breath faltered, then steadied as I forced my spiked heart rate to calm.
“Are you ready, Aerinne?” my father asked, offering me his arm.
We paused outside the arched entrance to the lush forest bower of Everenne City’s soaring white palace, a tourist attraction for the trickle of humans we allowed to visit from all over the world, including the United States. I slid my hand into the crook of his elbow, anchored by his unflappable bearing, though nothing could subdue my seething fury and beneath it, fear.
My father wore cobalt, House Faronne’s secondary color, enriching the blue undertones of his deep brown skin. Faint lines of age and laughter betrayed mortality in a face crowned with dense, tightly coiled curls. I wore a simple sheath of vermillion silk that bared my golden-brown back and shoulders—the secondary color of my House, incidentally a similar shade to fresh blood.
“Tonight is going to end in disaster,” I said.
The letter the Prince had sent me after our second volatile meeting—telling me I was his but welcome to dispute his claim, though in the end my submission was inevitable—still infuriated me past the point of caution.
I curled my upper lip, staring at him through the crowd, filling my eyes with every unspoken thought. Defiance, anger, contempt, rebellion. A promise that any attempt to take me would be met with violent resistance.
The expression in his eyes shifted, the swirling blue in their depths brightening as a subtly cruel smile bloomed, daring me to retreat, to refuse his claim. . .but to do that I must first step forward. The avatar of my infantile power stirred, reacting to apprehension I couldn’t quite disguise.
Beads of sweat dotted my temples. Behind him shadows shifted with an impression of great, black wings only I could see, the eye of a beast slowly opening, fixing on me as if by will alone he could drag me those remaining inches across the threshold into his personal domain.
My thigh muscles tensed as I stilled an urge to either run, or attack.