Home > Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(6)

Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(6)
Author: Ann Denton

Declan was handsome, in his own way. He had blond hair and ice blue eyes. He didn’t make my heart ache like Connor or make me cross-eyed with lust like Ryan. He definitely didn’t have that edge of dangerous aggression and amusement that drew me to Quinn. Declan was … safe. He would have been the perfect gentleman. If I had married him instead of running away.

But I hadn’t. And four years was a long time. For all I knew, he’d grown into a monster.

Declan pushed back his blond hair and stared down at me with pensive blue eyes. “What beast?”

I was startled he actually spoke civilly to me. “I’m not sure.”

“What group is sending it?”

“I’m not sure.”

He tilted his head and gave a smile that sent ice down my veins. “So, you ran four years ago, have diligently avoided capture, and suddenly appear here to warn Avia about a supposed plot against her. A plot for which you can provide no details?”

“I—”

“Send her to the dungeons.” Declan jerked his head at Quinn, who locked his hand around my upper arm.

“Either you’ve suddenly become stupid, or you have an ulterior motive,” Declan stated.

“Or,” Connor’s voice rang out of the shadows, “maybe someone’s found a way to get around the shield. Maybe she’s not Bloss at all.”

Chapter Four

Quinn yanked me sideways, but before he could drag me off, my mother’s personal butler, Jorad, appeared.

“Her Majesty, Queen Rella, would like the Crown Princess Bloss to attend to her in her chambers.”

“Her chambers?” my eyes went wide. “Why’s she in her chambers?” My heart skipped a beat and my face grew pale when Jorad didn’t answer.

Mother never stayed in her chambers. She was always up before dawn and worked long into the night. Meetings. Audiences. Meetings. Repeat.

I’d expected her to appear and berate me. I’d expected my fathers to trail behind her like ducks, like they always did, and shake their heads in silent disappointment over me.

Something was horribly wrong.

I kicked Quinn in the knee, surprising him enough to release me, and I ran. I ran through the palace, buzzing past servants and around maids with mops and laundresses carrying curtains and sheets. I ran past nobles, and dignitaries, and anyone in my path until the way became a blur because worried tears filled my eyes.

I stopped in front of my mother’s chamber, biting at my cheeks and blinking back the moisture in my eyes. I could not cry in front of her. A queen could not cry. A queen showed no emotion.

Ryan skidded to a halt behind me and had to reach over my head and put an arm on the wall to prevent himself from crashing into me. His hulking form would have smashed me to bits if he had.

Behind me I heard a click as a secret panel opened in the hallway and Connor and my other ‘husbands’ poured out of a hidden passage, muttering and cursing.

I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. Ryan didn’t say anything, just loomed over me, watching. The look in his eyes was pensive, calculating. He was weighing my emotional response and what it meant.

I could see the question in his eyes. Why would the woman who’d run from her family give a shite if something was wrong with her mother?

Sard. This is why my mother said no crying.

My hands shook as I turned the handle and pushed open the door.

Mother lay in her giant four poster bed, her hair plaited in a braid that reached her waist. The velvet covers were drawn around her waist and pillows propped up her back. A small lap desk was pushed to the side of her and overflowed with paper. As if she was working from her bedchamber. As if this were a normal event.

Was she that ill? Was it serious?

My heart beat a mile a minute as my eyes roved over her.

She was thinner than I remembered. Her hair was streaked with grey. Her lady-in-waiting clucked somewhere but the woman left the room at the flick of my mother’s wrist. For the first time in my memory, my queen mother smiled when she saw me.

“Bloss. I’d heard you returned. Well done,” mother nodded at someone behind me.

I supposed Ryan and the others had followed me into the room. I didn’t turn to look. I was still in shock.

Shock turned to anger. She was acting so calm about my return. So normal.

I saw her hand tremble against the bedsheets, though she tried to hide it.

That wasn’t an emotional tremble. It didn’t stop. She ended up burying her hands in the blankets to conceal her weakness.

My shock transformed into fear, and fear shape-shifted into an angry bear raging inside of me.

“What the sarding hell is going on?” I stomped further into the room. Ryan maintained his place two steps behind me. “I haven’t heard any talk about you being sick.”

She laughed lightly. “I can’t be ill. I have one missing daughter and another that’s two years away from being eligible to marry and take the throne.”

Those words blasted like a cannonball through my stomach. “Below the belt,” I snarled.

“Is it? I thought I only spoke truth.”

I seethed. She was always good at cutting me, at throwing me off balance and forcing me to use my power. It flickered in my stomach even now. I shoved it down forcefully.

No. I left that all behind, I told myself.

She watched me through slitted eyes, waiting to see how I’d respond. When I’d left, I’d been a scared little princess. Now? If this was the inn, I’d have cursed her to high heaven. So that’s what I did.

“You only speak half-truths, you black-souled she-witch. And you know it.” I growled.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ryan take a disbelieving step backward.

I’d just cursed the queen. No one cursed the queen. Not only that, but four years ago, I would never have said that. When I was eighteen, I’d been mother’s plaything, her puppet.

Aw, shite, I thought.

He was gonna think I wasn’t myself. That I was some kind of magicked spy.

But my mother grinned. “Grown up a bit have we? Think you can spit vitriol at your monarch?”

“Someone should. You surround yourself with enough ass-kissing fools.”

“Your Majesty,” Connor’s voice interjected. “Are you certain it’s Bloss?”

She arched an eyebrow. “She looks quite a bit worse for wear, but … Bloss, what did you do to your tutor when you were three?”

I rolled my eyes. “I bit his nose so hard they had to stitch it.”

“And when Avia was nine and you were fifteen, what was the horrific fight in your chamber about?”

My cheeks grew pink. “I refused to let her stay there at night any longer.”

“Why?”

She was trying to embarrass me. The bitch. But I’d seen so much in my time outside these walls and I wasn’t easily embarrassed. I’d seen men caught with their trousers down tripping through the streets as they chased after their furious wife. I’d seen a man who’d fallen through the slats of a rotten privy and had to yell for help and be towed up by six villagers, a woman going to the doctor for boils on her … Whatever mother asked me, it couldn’t be worse than that.

I squared my shoulders and looked her straight in the eye. “I pushed Avia out because I was too old ...” I trailed off, not wanting to say more.

“Too old to comfort your scared little sister?”

I swallowed. “I was a teenager.”

My mother slowly folded her hands in her lap. Finger by finger, letting us all just watch her like mice watch a cat who’s paused in toying with them. There was no hope she’d let me go. No hope she’d let it drop. Not when the tension level ratcheted up several levels and she could feel it. She reveled in these moments. She always had.

“The night before you left, what did you give Connor?”

My eyes widened and flitted to Connor’s. His seafoam colored eyes were just as wide as mine. He seemed shocked, too. I didn’t ask how she knew. But she did. She always knew.

I worked very hard to keep my hands from curling into fists. But my fingers flexed in anger. On instinct. I wanted to punch her in the mouth.

Behind me, Ryan let out a low growl as he saw my stiff back and realized the implication.

Mother had chosen Ryan for me when I was sixteen.

He’d been twenty-four then. Eight years my elder, already an officer. A local boy who’d come to the castle and ‘made it.’ I’d never questioned why she chose him then. I’d been overwhelmed. He’d been a dreamboat by all accounts. Part of the naughty fantasies I’d whispered with my lady-in-waiting. But sometimes fantasy was better than reality. Reality had scared me.

Ryan had approached me the night after the announcement. I’d been walking back to my rooms when he’d grabbed me from behind, like a thief, and stolen into an unlocked room. He’d pushed me up against the wall, dragged his hand along my hip, and whispered dirty things in my ear. Things that I’d been too naive and cowardly to take him up on as a teenage virgin.

I nearly laughed at that memory. His little whispers were nothing to what I’d seen in the months I’d worked in the counting house at the back of a brothel. But back then, I’d been too dazed by his looks and too scared by his words. I’d run.

Ryan’s hand clamped down on my shoulder as I faced my mother. His fingers dug into me painfully.

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