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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12. Eleven

Well. For a quiet little thing, Lily certainly seemed to be on the same wavelength as me. I twisted slightly to one side in front of the mirror, testing the outfit for movement. I wasn’t anticipating an attack tonight, but I was in the palace; being cautious was a given at all times here.

I sighed. Lily had given me instructions on how to get to Luke’s room, where he apparently had dinner every night, unless he dined with his father - then they took dinner in the Grand Hall. Apparently the King thought dining rooms in the royal quarters to be unworthy of his grandness.

My hands fisted, and I made conscious effort to relax them. Tonight was already going to be hard, having dinner with Luke while not letting him find out who I was. Not only that, but apparently his bedroom was the room I used to occupy.

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before; it was the heir’s room, after all, and built for the successor of the throne. Of course the Prince would ave that room.

Still.

The last thing I needed was losing my temper over the King, when my emotions would already be so jangled without thinking about him.

Taking deep breaths, I straightened my back, slid a knife into my boot and smiled.

Luke wouldn’t know what hit him.

 

Knocking on the door to my old room seemed almost surreal. I’d never been in this position before, but this was a side of the palace I knew better than anything. I knew all the nooks and crannies, all the hidden passages and the good places to hide.

At least that’s something, I mused. If I get into trouble, I’ll be able to hide.

I was concentrated on my own thoughts of the irony of this situation, I didn’t notice the door in front of me open until Luke spoke.

“Lady Johansen. You came.”

I cocked my head at him. “You seem surprised, Your Highness. I was led to believe not many people denied you.”

He smirked. “True enough. And it’s Lucas,” he said, stepping aside to let me walk by him.

“Of course. Lucas.”

“You look stunning.”

I tried to contain a smirk as I sat down on the chair he pulled out for me. “Thank you. Lily is most skilled in making me feel quite regal.”

I gave myself a mental kick. As entertaining as these little plays on words might be for me, I had to stop it. Or I wouldn’t be able to contain my laughter, and wouldn’t that raise uncomfortable questions.

Thankfully, Luke didn’t seem to have noticed anything amiss in my speech - at least, not what I expected him to. He was looking at me curiously, and I raised an eyebrow at him.

“Lily?”

“Oh. My ladies’ maid.”

His face turned from curious to confused. “She told you her name?” and from confused to outraged. “She had no right.”

“Whoa. I asked her. I know there’s a custom of not knowing servants’ names, but I like to treat them as the people they are.”

Luke didn’t say anything, but kept on staring at me, slightly shocked, if his eyes were any indicators. Quickly, I averted my own, remembering that even though we were a table apart, he might recognise my own eyes if I wasn’t careful.

Looking down, I saw so much food on the table, it probably could have fed an army. My stomach rumbled as I started piling food on my plate. All the while, Luke just stared at me contemplatively; I could feel his eyes on me as I surveyed my food. Shit. Did he recognise me?

I panicked for a moment, looking up quickly to peek at his face, then relaxed. He didn’t look suspicious, just intrigued. That I could deal with.

“See something you like?” I inquired sweetly, raising a forkful of steaming hot, yummy food to my mouth.

His own twisted into a grin. “Sorry. It’s just, you reminded me of a… friend I used to have.”

I swallowed hard. “Used?” I put my fork down so he wouldn’t notice the death grip my hands had on it. My hands were itching to go for the various knives I had strapped around my body.

He sighed, starting to put food on his own plate. “She died, years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded.

I don’t know what made me ask it. Maybe I had a death wish after all. Maybe I just wanted to know if anything of the boy I considered a friend was still in there.

“Was she a Princess?”

His head snapped up to look at me, gaze shrewd. “Why do you ask?”

I shrugged, my grasp on my table knife so hard I was surprised it hadn’t started melting yet. “You’re a Prince. I guess I just assumed.”

“Yeah, she was. She was going to be Queen one day.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Yeah.”

There was silence then, as both of us turned our attention to our food. 

“Lily also tells me you’re not in the habit of dining with your female guests.”

His drawn face relaxed, and I allowed myself to relax a little too. “Oh yeah? What else has Lily told you?”

I smiled at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” I said.

He lowered his fork. “What was it? Whatever it was, if it was bad, it’s not true. If it was good, it’s definitely true.”

I laughed. “Worry not, Your Highness. She’s a shy girl. She only seemed surprised when I told her you’re invited me for dinner. Said you had many female companions, but never for dinner.” I paused as I chewed slowly on my forkful, eyeing him contemplatively. “It made me wonder about what you had planned for tonight.”

His eyes laughed at me from across the table. “Why? What did you think I had in mind before?”

“Honestly?”

“I have a feeling you’re incapable of anything else, Emma.”

I wanted to laugh again at that, but held it back. I shrugged. “I thought you were trying to seduce me. I got the impression that’s something you quite enjoy doing.”

“Seducing beautiful women?”

“Breaking their hearts.”

“Ouch.”

I inclined my head, and he smiled at me.

“But fair, all things considered,” he conceded. “If that’s what you thought, I have to wonder at you accepting my invitation.”

“Like I said. I didn’t get the feeling you heard the word ‘no’ very often. And I’m a guest here.”

“So you’d sleep with me to be allowed to stay? Was it that bad at home?”

I shook my head. “No, I wouldn’t sleep with you. But I could at least come to dinner, at least try to acquiesce to your request somewhat.”

“Hmm.”

I swallowed again. My food was quickly disappearing from my plate. It all tasted heavenly, of course, and not having had a decent meal in months, the feeling of real food in my stomach was comforting.

“So,” I said, drawing out the word. “Since I’m here for dinner, why don’t you tell me what it is you wanted to say.”

Luke smiled at me. “You haven’t changed one bit, you know.”

I was so concentrated on my mashed potatoes - heavenly, just light enough to make it melt in my mouth - his words didn’t really register. “From a couple of hours ago? I’d surely hope now.”

When he didn’t answer, I looked up at him. He grinned.

“Welcome home, Regina.”

There was a clatter, my fork fell to the floor, mash piled high on it, as I sprang up and ran to the window.

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