Apricum (Apricum Kingdom #1)

Orphaned and in charge of keeping her young brother alive, Helga survives by using her powers to kill for hire. But, when she is kidnapped by people wanting to exploit her, Helga's life changes drastically. No longer sure who to trust, she escapes and goes looking for her brother Finn. But she's been keeping secrets even from those closest to her, and secrets have a way of finding you, in the end... [PG-15 for violence and language - keep in mind that the protagonist kills for a living. Some references to sex.]

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19. Eighteen

The next morning, Luke wouldn't look me in the eye. I pretended it didn't bother me, but in a way, it did. The only other person who knew me before everything changed and had seen me at my worst was Freyja, and she understood - both my need to hit something sometimes, and the fact that it was this or something else equally unpleasant; it was a job, and I did it to survive.

Most days, it was enough to believe that.

Freyja knew and understood me, and she loved me for who I was, warts and all.

I sighed. "You know we need to actually talk now, right?"

Luke nodded vaguely. We were walking in the gardens. It had been his brilliant idea to pretend to court me, so that no one would be suspicious of us spending time together. Still, it now meant that we had to walk around arm-in-arm and I had to pretend to be madly in love with the Prince whose father had killed my parents.

Always such fun, my life was.

Working hard to stop from sighing again, I pulled my arm from his and sat on a nearby bench. The one advantage of this whole courting plan was that the guards stayed a healthy distance away. I always got fidgety around them, which made Luke fidgety. And if he'd been nervous when I was on edge before, I didn't want to see what would happen now.

I squinted up at him where he stood with the sun behind him, creating a halo around his entire frame. His shoulders were tensed. Selling the idea that we were madly in love was going to be very hard when my alleged suitor wouldn’t even look at me.

I sighed. “We need to talk about this, if it bothers you so much," I told him. His shoulders dropped and the fight seemed to leave him. "I mean it, Luke. If we're going to do this, you have got to be able to trust me."

He nodded, looking over my head at the rose bush behind me. "I know. I do."

"See, I don't think that you do," I told him gently. "Ever since last night, you've been distant and quiet around me."

His gaze met mine then, piercing in its strength. "How am I supposed to be act, Regina? You tortured someone better than any of my fathers men has ever done, I'm sure. How am I supposed to react to that? Because frankly, I don't know." He shook his head. "I feel like I don't know you anymore.”

His words reminded me of my thoughts last night, and it made me sad. How had things gone so wrong? Was it because of the invasion, or had we been destined to grow apart?

"That's because you don't."

His head whipped up and he seemed about to take a step back. I rolled my eyes at him. "Chill, I didn't mean that I was going to attack you, gods! I just meant that you knew me eight years ago, Luke. That little girl who was about to the start training in earnest to be a princess against her will died the night your father killed my parents."

He opened his mouth, but I continued.

"I had to make do to survive. Freyja and I, we did what we needed to do to stay alive and keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. I told you this before."

He nodded, sitting next to me. "I guess I just didn't realise the extent of what that meant."

I smiled bitterly. “An easy mistake, I guess. A life in here, behind these walls will do that," I agreed. "You have no idea how lucky you are. Not just because you're rich," I added, when he shot me a sideways glance. "And of course you understand the concept of your luck, but it isn't until you're out there, on your own, that you really appreciate just how easy life has been for you."

"You think it's been easy living with the guilt?"

"Guilt? That's an emotion, Luke. Emotions become a luxury out there. Half of the city can only survive if they ignore their emotions and their conscience."

"So is Freyja... Like you?"

I shook my head. "No. She found a... Another way."

"What?"

"It's not my story to tell, Luke."

He nodded. "What about her brother?"

"He's ten, Luke."

"So he doesn't work?"

I barked out a laugh. "Gods, no. Though not for lack of enthusiasm on his part, believe me. He worries me." Luke's eyes asked the question, so I smiled at him. "He looks up to me a little bit too much. Keeps pestering me to let him come along on jobs."

He looked alarmed. "You don't let him?"

"Of course not! Freyja would kill me. Besides, even though Freyja and I need to work because  it's necessary to feed us, he doesn't have to follow down that path. Freyja has been teaching him in a sort of makeshift school when she has time, so hopefully by next year we'll have enough money saved up for school. And then he can get a good, decent job."

I needed to change the subject fast. Not talking about Finn and Thor together was an exercise in restraint, and I almost slipped up many times during that little speech.

Thankfully, Luke did it for me as he grabbed my hand and squeezed. "So what are we going to do?”

Taking a deep breath, I turned to look at him. “There’s really not much of a choice, is there? I need to go in to get them.”

“But -”

“You know I’m right, Luke.”

“What if you get caught?”

I grinned at him wolfishly. “Don’t you worry about me.”

 

I sat on the bench for hours after Luke went inside. Finally tonight I would get Finn back. My mouth curved up in a smile. And with all the sun I was soaking up, the gods have pity on anyone that tried to stop me.

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