I didn’t hear the knock the first few times.
Grumbling in my sleep, I rolled over, squinting at the window. Though the curtains were closed, not sliver of light peeked through them. I sighed.
The knocking escalated to what sounded like someone trying to break down my door. I wanted to dive back under the covers until he went away - because there was only one person who’d have the audacity to knock on the door of a palace guest like that, and it wasn’t a servant of the King’s.
“Yeah?” I croaked, coughing to clear my throat. Gods, but I wanted some water. Even evaporating the alcohol from my blood stream, my body always wanted water after a night out with heavy drinking. I was only human, after all.
“Emma, open up! We need to talk.”
I sighed again, and clumsily stumbled out of bed. I almost fell over my skirt strewn across the floor and swore quietly. Staggering around the room, I attempted to find my dressing gown.
I winced, my head starting to pound. “Hold on!” I yelled back. “By Nott’s sake, what’s the hurry?” I grumbled as I grabbed the dressing down from behind the bathroom door and yanked it on. “Is there a bloody fire?”
I stomped over to the door and yanked it open. “What?” I growled.
Luke sauntered in with a grin. “And good morning to you too, sunshine.”
I glowered at him. “You’d better have a very good reason to be here. I got in very late last night and really need to rest, unless you want to risk random fires popping up around the palace when I get angry.”
He arched a brow. “I don’t see one now.”
I gritted my teeth. “That’s because I’m trying very hard not to set you on fire,” I told him. “Not sure why I bother,” I mumbled under my breath.
He didn’t seem to hear the last comment, or went on like he hadn’t.
“Well, this should cheer you up,” he said, sitting down on one of the comfortable sofas in my sitting area.
“It better,” I told him.
He grinned at me, and I knew he was thinking the same as I was: or else what? What could I possibly do to the Crown Prince that wouldn’t end with me dead or in prison?
And that was way too depressing a thought for so early in the morning.
“Well get on with it then,” I snapped.
“Last night after we talked, I told some of my personal guard to be on the lookout for anything that might lead to your friends. One of my guards came to me this morning telling me something very interesting. Apparently, a prostitute was asking around in one of the clubs last night about the old royal family and the possibility of them still being alive.”
I stared at him, mouth ajar. He’d called me a…
He jumped, startled. “A woman was asking…”
“What did you call me?”
Luke looked confused. “I didn’t call you anything. Gina, are you okay?”
“Didn’t call me… you just called me a prostitute to my face! And anyway, what was it that so interesting that you had to tell me?”
He blinked at me, confusion clearing away and leaving stark disbelief. “You. It was you. But she said the woman was wearing a short skirt, and…”
I waved my hand. “It’s easier to get answers out of people if they’re drunk and eager to please,” I told him. “But prostitute? I’ve seen many of those in my days, and trust me, that’s not how one acts while working.”
He cocked his head, regarding me curiously. “Where did you meet many prostitutes?” His eyes widened. “You don’t…?”
“Gods, no! By Sunna, is that the only thing you can think of? No. I… lived among them for a few years - not working,” I added quickly, seeing his eyes widen even more. “But a friend did - still does, and she let u- me stick around until I found a job.”
He didn’t say anything, and when he opened his mouth, I cut him off. “Don’t even bother asking what that job was,” I told him shortly. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“And you wouldn’t tell me anyway?”
I smiled weakly. “And I wouldn’t tell you anyway.”
He sighed. “Fine. Well that’s an empty lead, then. I thought we’d found someone else who might know about you, and could help with finding your friends.”
I paused. “You said your guard told you this. What’s her name?”
“Why? What does it matter?”
“What’s her name, Luke?”
I bolted up. “That’s interesting.”
“I followed Katherine out of the club yesterday.”
“She didn’t say she was followed,” he started to say.
I shot him a withering glare. “As if she’d ever have known I was there if I didn’t want her to know. As I was saying,” I said when he opened his mouth again. “I followed her to this warehouse on the other side of town right after I talked to her. She went in, then came out with a guy. They came back to the palace and walked right in through the front door.”
“Hmm. He must work here then.”
I hesitated, but decided to go for it. If he said yes, it would make my life much easier; if he said no, I’d have to do it the hard way. “Let me interrogate her.”
His head snapped up. “What?”
“Katherine. Let me talk to her, ask her some questions.”
He hesitated. “I don’t know, Regina. Emma,” he hastily corrected when he saw my expression. “I don’t think she’d tell you much.”
I nodded. “But I can be very… persuasive,” I told him, snapping my fingers. Three fireballs appeared in the air in front of him, hovering a few feet from the ground. “I’m sure I can find a way to get her to talk.”
“No way. You’re not torturing my guard!”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be such a drama queen, Lucas. I never said I’d torture her, just that I’d use some healthy doses of fear to get her to talk.”
“Well then, what do you propose? Unless you think she’ll spill everything to you?”
He looked contemplative and I snorted. “If she didn’t tell you anything this morning - ”
“Yeah, but now I’ll be asking her directly. It could work.”
I sighed. “Fine. And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
He shrugged. “Knit?”
I narrowed my eyes at him and sent one of the fireballs to bounce around his feet. He didn’t make a sound, but flinched. “Don’t patronise me, Luke. I’m already on edge, you don’t want to push me over it.”
He swallowed. “Sorry.”
“Not as sorry as Katherine will be if she doesn’t tell you anything.”
He nodded. “I’ll let you know as soon as I have some news.”
“Good,” I mumbled as he walked out of the room.
Getting up, I looked around, sighing. I went over to the curtains and pulled them aside slightly, enough to allow some sunlight to stream in and replenish that side of me, but not too much that it would keep me awake. Then, shrugging to myself, I walked back to the bed and face-planted in it.
I had to rest up if there was any chance I’d have to scare someone into betraying their King.
“Mmm, sounds like fun,” I mumbled to myself before succumbing to sleep again