Home > The Shadows Between Us(8)

The Shadows Between Us(8)
Author: Tricia Levenseller

Rhoda presses her lips to my ear. “Leandros wasn’t able to take his eyes off you at the ball last night. I think he’s already taken with you. But, then again, who isn’t?”

“I certainly can’t fault you for your relatives. It is a pleasure to meet you, Leandros,” I say, daring to use his first name. Just because I can’t bed him, it doesn’t mean I can’t flirt. Our eyes meet, and he suddenly sizes me up in a new light. As a possibility. It’s terribly mean to give him hope, but I just can’t help myself.

“And where are your companions?” I ask. I’d seen Leandros earlier in the orchards. Before Demodocus plowed into me. He was talking with two other men his age.

“Distracting the masses, of course.” He nods over my shoulder.

I turn to see his friends intercepting other gentlemen coming my way.

“Wanted me to yourself, did you?” I ask.

“Can you blame me?” he asks.

I grin. “How long have the three of you been at the palace?” I ask, including the girls in the conversation.

“About six months,” Rhoda says, “but Leandros has been here far longer, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” he says. “I’ve lived at the palace for years. Being on the king’s council necessitates my uncle’s living here. I asked to join him. I’m not really fond of living out in the country.”

“Did you grow up with the king, then?” I ask.

Something on Leandros’s face looks saddened by the question. “During our adolescence, yes. We were quite close actually. Along with my friends.”

“Were?” I catch on to his use of the past tense.

“He pushed everyone away once he became king. He doesn’t trust a soul. I suspect that’s why no one is allowed near him.”

“I suppose,” Rhoda says after a pause in the conversation, “that I would be distrustful, too, if I were a king, knowing that the last one had been murdered.”

I don’t know much about the late king and queen or their murders, but I do know that the culprit was never caught. Some, of course, speculate that the new king is responsible. But that hardly matters to me.

It has no bearing on my plans.

 

 

CHAPTER

5


As we rise from our bench, Hestia and Rhoda invite me to join them and the rest of the ladies in the sitting room for some embroidery before suppertime.

“And that’s my cue,” Leandros says. “Farewell, ladies. Alessandra, I do hope to see more of you in the future.”

I nod, shading my eyes slightly with my lashes, before turning to Rhoda and Hestia. “I’m not much for embroidery, but I could bring one of the new outfits I’m working on.”

“Yes!” Hestia exclaims. “Then you can teach me some stitches. Oh, won’t you, Alessandra?”

There’s something so genuine behind the question. I can’t help but answer with “Of course.”

“Wonderful,” she answers. “I can already tell we’ll be fast friends.”

We start for the palace together, and a servant standing farther down the creek joins us. I don’t usually take note of servants, but this one is quite handsome.

“Oh, this is Galen, my manservant,” Rhoda explains. “He accompanies me most places and will be carrying the embroidery supplies to the sitting room for us.”

“My lady.” He bows, a head of chocolate-colored curls dipping toward the ground.

Unaccustomed to being introduced to servants, I merely incline my head, but neither Rhoda nor Galen seems offended. In fact, as soon as we reach the castle, they both start off in what must be the direction of Rhoda’s embroidery supplies, the two already deep in conversation.

After I gather my own things, I have a servant escort me to the sitting room. I’m told the room belonged to the late queen, which she used for social activities with the ladies at court. Apparently, the Shadow King has permitted the female nobility to continue their needlework there, since there isn’t a current queen to make use of it.

The doors are opened for me, and I enter into a circular room with marbled floors and a beautifully painted ceiling made to look like the night sky, stars and all. Tall windows let in plenty of natural light, and a chandelier dangles down, lit with a hundred candles. Though the palace has already been fitted with wires for electricity, I love that the queen kept such a beautiful light fixture.

Plush cushions and chairs spiral around the room, most of them already occupied. The few empty ones I spot are embroidered with black roses on the seats and backs. I’ve noticed the design throughout the entire castle, and I wonder the reason for it. The royal family’s coat of arms is a black stallion kicking its front legs into the air. So this must symbolize something else.

“Alessandra!”

I startle at the voice.

“Over here. I’ve saved you a seat!”

Right in the center of everything, Hestia stands and waves me over. She’s somehow managed to change her entire outfit, grab her embroidery, and beat me down here. Now she wears a blue overskirt over the top of her black pants. Little bluebirds are sewn over the fabric.

I’m not sure whether to be flattered or annoyed by the blatant imitation of my blue attire.

I tread over to her, clutching a swath of fabric in my arms.

Ladies have their skirts settled around them so they can sit more comfortably on the settees and chairs. Since I’m wearing pants, I opt for a large pillow on the floor, crossing my legs at the ankles as I sit.

Whatever conversation had been ongoing when I entered continues. Hestia babbles on about the lord she spent the most time dancing with at the ball last night.

Rhoda joins me on the ground, uncaring that her ankles are exposed when she sits.

“If it’s not too rude to ask, may I inquire as to your age, Alessandra?” she asks.

“I’m eighteen,” I say. “And you?”

She huffs out a breath. “Twenty-four. I’m fairly certain I’m the oldest unmarried lady at court.”

“Surely not,” I say, spreading out the fabric along my lap so I can find where I left off.

Rhoda nods. “I must admit, however, that I’ve already been married once. So perhaps it doesn’t matter that I’m currently single?”

“What happened to your first husband?” I ask.

“Oh, nothing so dreadful as leaving me. He only died. Not even the richest man can escape old age.”

I raise a gloved hand to hide a smile. “Not a love match, then?”

“No, but he left me quite a lot of money, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. And he gave me Galen! Galen was his valet, you see. And after my husband died, I just sort of kept him. He was such a huge help in making all the funeral arrangements and helping me adjust.”

“Yet you’re in a hurry to be wed again?” I ask.

She straightens her skirts. “Oh, I don’t have to marry again. Not with my fortune, but I would very much like to have something heated and passionate. I was wed at far too young an age to a shriveled old man. I’m ready to be with someone young and healthy. Someone I can love. Don’t you want that?”

I’ve done passion before. That’s what it was with Hektor. It didn’t go over well. Passion doesn’t lead anywhere good. It turned me into a murderess.

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