I got this thing off to beta readers! So as long as they don’t think it’s complete crap, I should be on track for an early May release. So without further ado, here’s the next chapter.
“Since you did so well, I thought you could have your own room.” Teodora’s tone was that of an adult rewarding an obedient child.
Elektra smiled. “Thank you, Mother.” She wondered what the catch was, and wouldn’t let her guard down for even a second. She’d be glad to be out of the cubby-hole adjoining her mother’s suite, but doubted she’d have much freedom. Privacy was good, though.
They’d returned to Princess Viviane’s palace after Elektra’s adventure with the peasant rebellion, seemingly already over. Teodora whispered to a footman, who nodded, then turned to Elektra saying, “This way, Your Grace.”
Elektra followed him down the corridor, through Princess Viviane’s private quarters and into the next wing. These were the guest chambers, some of which Elektra already knew.
“I’ll send someone with your things,” the footman said before taking his leave.
The door shut behind him, leaving Elektra alone.
She dropped into a chair in front of the cold fireplace and breathed in deeply. She’d survived this mission, and for once, had played an important part in doing so. But now she was back in her mother’s clutches. And something was very wrong here. When Elektra had pretended to escape the palace, Teodora looked like an eighty-year-old. The woman Elektra had just spoken with didn’t appear to be a day over thirty, aside from gray hair darkening by the moment. Something had happened, something unnatural.
Elektra shivered. She’d heard the rumors surrounding Daciana Tomescu, and knowing what she did about that foul creature, half-believed them. But while it was certain Daciana was dead, it was as though her mother had taken on her more unsettling traits. Something had turned her mother vital, whole, and more powerful than before. Elektra would have to be more careful than ever.
She leaned back in the chair, taking in a deep shuddering breath, refusing to cry. Freedom had been within her grasp. She might have been in one of those sledges darting away from the scene of the battle bearing Princess Gwynneth and Elektra’s friends, Devyn and Stella. Even though Teodora seemed certain she’d catch them, Elektra prayed for their escape. If it hadn’t been for Braeden, she’d be with them now, on her way to a new life as Lennart’s full-fledged ally.
After what she had done to save Braeden’s life, Elektra was certain she would have been rewarded with trust and responsibilities. But all that was like nothing now. It would never happen. She might have the freedom of the palace, but her mother would watch her carefully, Elektra knew that. Trying to escape now, with Teodora in charge of the kingdom, would be foolish and reckless.
Braeden had said he’d come get her; had sworn it. Elektra drew in another breath and blinked back tears creeping to the corners of her eyes. She was done crying.
Getting up from her chair, where she’d grown rather cold, Elektra walked to the window. Though snow still covered the ground, the days were longer now, and a weak late afternoon sun flooded the garden with pale light. Spring would be here soon.
Elektra clenched her jaw. Braeden had ruined her life yet again. After helping to rescue him, then saving his life directly, he had still betrayed her. It was obvious he cared far more about Devyn and Princess Gwynneth than he did about her. She didn’t fault him for that, but she had to stop deluding herself. No one cared about her. At least not enough to sacrifice anything for her.
The door opened behind Elektra. She turned and saw servants bearing her things.
“Put them down and leave,” she said.
She must have sounded like her mother, because the two of them dumped everything on the bed and left in a hurry, the door slamming behind them.
Elektra shivered, wishing she’d asked one of them to stay and build a fire. Still, she needed be alone right now and think. She was on her own. No one had ever cared about her for herself. They only cared about her position as Teodora’s heir, or as Lennart’s ally. Elektra needed to stop hoping for love, for friendship, and decide what she wanted. Then she needed to take it.
She pushed open the window and leaned out, letting the icy wind caress her face. Her mother thought she was weak. Let her. From now on, Elektra would take advantage of that.
She no longer cared if Braeden would come; in fact, she wished he wouldn’t. She didn’t trust him, and frankly, didn’t trust Princess Gwynneth either. Devyn was nice enough, but only a boy, with no real power. The same was true for all of the people Elektra might count as friends. Her sister Zofya she hadn’t seen in years, and while she was Queen of Galladium, Elektra doubted she had much to say about anything as long as Natalya Maxima remained in charge.
She thought of Aksel Roussay with a pang, but dismissed him as yet another nice person with no power to help her achieve her goals. Queen Raysa was no different.
Livilla. Elektra closed the window, pressing her forehead against the cold glass. Livilla was the one person with real power who Elektra also considered a friend. Maybe. Ever since her captivity in her mother’s palace in Atlona, Elektra had wondered if Livilla could be trusted. Maybe not. But perhaps she could be used. Used the same way her mother had when she destroyed the old emperor.
Elektra turned away from the window and faced the darkened room. No more wishing for what couldn’t be, hoping for others who might support, or even love her. It was time to take matters into her own hands.
Elektra reached for the bell.
When the footman appeared, she said, “Take me to the empress.”by