Content warning: Blood
I wake up, head throbbing, on the floor of the most opulent room I’ve ever been in.
A plump woman crouches beside me, worry pinching her eyebrows. “Your Majesty?”
I blink, and a look of relief breaks through her panic. She helps me up, her arm sturdy around my shoulders.
“You had a fainting spell, Your Majesty.”
I have no idea who this woman is, or why she’s calling me “Your Majesty.” I work a desk job. Most days, I’m lucky if someone calls me by my name instead of “hey, you.”
Before I can ask, the doors to the room open and the most beautiful man I have ever seen sweeps in. He’s tall, with the kind of build that promises hours dedicated to maintaining his physique, and has lush, blonde hair. I can’t pin the color of his eyes, until he turns them on me. They’re an impossible shade of red.
“What are you doing?”
His sharp voice reminds me of the way my boss, Mr. Dickerson, speaks when he’s about to go on one of his screaming tangents. I shoot up from the floor, vision swimming. The woman offers me a hand. I grab it and hold on tight.
The man’s frown deepens. “Is something the matter?”
I’m grasping for straws, so I latch onto the woman’s words. “Just a fainting spell.”
He doesn’t seem convinced, but he also doesn’t push the matter. “Why aren’t you dressed? Helena,” he says, turning the full weight of his attention onto the woman. She takes two steps back, standing up even straighter. “See to it that she’s ready within the hour.”
Helena’s grip on my arm tightens. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
After Helena dresses me—in a deep blue gown with a complicated series of skirts—she turns me towards a mirror and I nearly faint again. The woman that looks back at me is one I’ve never seen before. She’s tall and has long hair that bounces with every turn of my head, ice blue eyes, and skin that has a natural tan to it all year long. Essentially, the exact opposite of everything I’ve spent twenty-four years looking at.
Before I can ask any questions, the man from earlier comes back to the room, dressed in a tunic of the same deep blue.
“Ready?” he asks, holding out an arm.
When I put my arm through his, he gives me a smile that makes my heart flutter.
He leads me through hallways and corridors, where everyone who passes pauses to bow deeply at us. He doesn’t stop until we’re standing before a set of gleaming, golden doors, and a herald bows. The herald pushes open the doors onto a room full of people in similar finery, sipping wine out of goblets and chattering amongst themselves.
“Esteemed guests, introducing his Royal Majesty, Evren Tarasque, the Dragon Emperor, and Queen Messalina of Draconia, celebrating their fifth year of marriage.”
Silence falls over the room and I’m led forward. Finally, I have names. Helena. Evren. Messalina. I’m hoping by the end of the night, more of this will click into place.
Throughout the evening, I stay by Evren’s side. Important-looking men and women speak to us, and every time, Evren steers the conversation towards himself.
A burly man steps forward and greets Evren.
“Taurus,” Evren says, searching the man’s face. “Any updates on the foreign situation?”
Taurus whispers something to Evren, nods at me, and walks away.
More than once, I try to say something, and Evren gives me the same glare our division manager does when I try to interject during a meeting. I can’t get truly upset though, not when he squeezes my side, or tucks a piece of hair behind my ear, or whispers something that makes me laugh.
Through it all, a man stationed along the walls of the room with the rest of what appear to be guards keeps glancing at me. I assume it’s for the same reason Evren’s kept a hand on me all night—this body is beautiful.
When Evren leaves my side for a moment, the guard surges forward, but stops when someone sidles up to me.
“Your Majesty.” I turn to find the spitting image of Evren grinning at me, though his eyes are a rich blue. “Would you care for a dance?”
“Actually, Prince Griffin, I think what she would care for is something to drink.” A woman I don’t know practically hauls the man—Prince Griffin—away from me and shoves a goblet into my hand.
“Lady Leela,” Prince Griffin sniffs.
“If you’re both done with her,” Evren says, wrapping an arm around my waist, “Lady Messalina and I are off to make an heir.”
“Come now, Your Majesty,” Lady Leela says, fighting back a blush. “It’s your fifth anniversary. Surely you and Queen Messalina can stay out a bit longer.”
Evren shoots her a withering glare and she hurries away.
Evren leads me back to the bedroom, and dismisses the woman who offers to help me out of my dress, slipping his warm fingers between the laces. A knock on the door interrupts us. Evren opens it and Helena pops her head in.
“Apologies, Your Majesty. This is a draught for Her Highness, to help with the fainting.”
Evren sighs, but ushers me forward.
Helena pitches her voice to a whisper. “Your Majesty, this is the brew to ensure you don’t fall pregnant.”
I take the cup, confused. Why wouldn’t a Queen want to become pregnant with the man she’s been married to for five years? Maybe Messalina has her own timeline.
Like everything else tonight, I don’t question it, and simply knock the drink back. Helena takes the cup and leaves the room.
Evren sits on the bed and opens his arms for me. Everything about this evening has been confusing, but this is the one thing that makes perfect sense: the most beautiful man I have ever seen is asking to touch me, looking me up and down like there’s no else on earth he’d rather be with. I’m many things, but an idiot is not one of them.
Warm liquid seeping through my night dress startles me awake.
Evren is still sleeping next to me. I search his face for any sign that he’s awake, and that’s when I see him, holding a dagger that glints in the light of the moon. It’s the guard, the same one who had been staring at me all throughout the celebration.
He stares at me then, too, face blank, as though he didn’t just murder a man in his sleep.
“Help, help!” I cry.
The guard’s expression finally changes, his eyes going wide as he watches me scramble away from him.
“What are you doing?” he hisses, taking a step closer. “This isn’t what we agreed on.”
The blade is still in his hand.
“Help!” I scream again. “Stay away from me. Someone, help!”
There’s a flurry of noise, and finally, the doors to the bedroom open, bathing everything in light. Up until now, the most blood I’d ever seen was the time Molly stapled her own thumb. Now, however, it covers everything—my arms, my legs, my nightgown, all of it pooling out from a wound in Evren’s chest.
And if this assassin is to be believed, it’s all my fault.