Lover’s Curse Chapter Thirteen - Lover’s Curse
Days pass without a visit, with only the ceiling tiles to aid my scheming. My heart skids and shudders at an uneven pace, and everything--the walls, the guards, the pain--blurs around it. Sometimes it is light. Sometimes it is dark. Sometimes Cal begs for me in my dreams.
It must be a week.
Is he bored of me?
I lay my head against the pillow for a noonday nap. Footsteps draw closer, and I pull upright. A familiar head emerges from the doorway, black hair tousled and slick with sweat. The circles beneath his eyes may well be charcoal, bruises tithe for the nightmares he cannot have.
He has me, I suppose.
“Could you knock?” I make a show of smoothing my hair, twisting the gray ends so they catch the light. “I thought princes were taught better manners.”
“I’m a king.”
“Depends who you ask.” He tenses, but I press on. “Prince, king, monster--it doesn’t matter. You’ll always be Maven to me.”
I can’t read his expression as he settles on the edge of my bed. He tosses a packet onto my lap, the stiff print of government documents. “It matters to me.”
My hands brush shakily over the surface. “Did you like my present?”
The wording is archaic and stilted, certain phrases snagging my eye while others blur to nonsense. Protection of the Crown. Cases of Legitimacy. Line of Succession. “What the hell is this?”
He chuckles, fingertips grazing my leg. “Do you know what a royal consort is?”
“If it won’t let me punch you in the face, I’m not interested.”
“You should be.” Maven’s eyes gleam. “My grandfather had one. Had Father any sense, he would have made one of Corrieanne, though I doubt Mother would have stood for it.”
“I don’t care about your parents’ love lives.” I yawn. “I barely care about yours.”
“It’s a title granted to royal lovers.” His hand retreats from my thigh. “You’ll have an official place in my court, and the protection of the Crown. You’ll never be interrogated by a Merandus again. Just sign the dotted line.”
“What’s the rest?” I flip through the papers. “I’m not agreeing to 37 pages of paperwork so you can brag about fucking me.”
Maven chokes, but swiftly recovers. “Mostly terms regarding any children we might have, but that’s--that’s--I’m too young to talk about heirs.” His cheeks flush grey. “There are more pertinent matters.”
“What’s in it for me?”
He traces the nearest manacle, face softening. “These come off.”
“You had a chance to leave, and you didn’t. I can trust you without them. Provided you sign, of course.”
It’ll be like before. A red princess, paraded on Maven’s arm, a symbol of hope to dull us into complacency. At least I get to keep my name.
My hand shakes as I grasp the pen. “No more silent stone?”
“Never.” He grips my shoulders, mouth at my ear. “Unless you give me reason.”
Fire sings in my blood as I yank him closer. “Then I’ll never leave.” My lips graze his, close enough to bite. “Unless you give me reason.”
“So you agree.”
“Silence.” My fingers curl into his hair and pull, claiming his breath before he can respond. The less he can speak, the less he can lie.
We sink into the pillows, Maven shuddering beneath my touch. Heat climbs up my spine and I want nothing more but to burn him and his stupid palace to the ground. Make an M from the ashes. M for monster. M for murderer. M for mistake.
M for Mare.
He caresses my body with the barest of touches, as though I were a delicate vase rather than a thorn burrowing in his heart. One hand finds my face, guiding me away from his mouth to his glistening neck. A little further, and I could give him hickeys to match my brand.
The thought should thrill me less.
“Consort.” I nip his trachea. “If I sign.”
“You chose me.”
“Less talking, more gasping.”
He slithers to my ear. “Be specific, Mare. Are we talking low, husky moans, or--” His breathing grows rapid. “Would you prefer quick, panicked gulps of air?”
“Just say my name.”
He says it like a prayer. He says it like a curse. He says it like a taunt, a sweet nothing, a vengeance, a promise. He sees through me like no one else can, like no one else wants to. “Mare. My queen.”
I’ve given up correcting him.
I glare at my signature, freshly scrawled and painfully red, as though it will change anything. I need the leverage this position will give me, the trust it represents. And I need these manacles off before they smother me.
Everyone will know.
If they didn’t already.
A dark, bitter laugh escapes my throat. Lover. As if Maven and I have ever approached love. Loneliness. Desperation. Sorrow. A void filled with the closest body, not healing, but deepening. Love only to fools and beggars.
To anyone else, we are a curse.
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