The Double-Edge of Storytelling
“Well then, how about I tell you a story?”
Cora stiffened in the passenger seat of the car. One of her hands gripped the door handle while the other clasped the seatbelt across her chest. Lara had been trying to engage her for the last hour in conversations over pride politics and the royal family, things that Cora knew very little about with the isolated education she had been offered. If she were willing to give her information on those same topics, Cora would have gladly listened. Instead, she was firing off question after question, clearly with the intent of making her realize how very poorly she fit in with Brock and his position in life.
She wondered briefly if she should confess that she understood the purpose of Lara’s line of questioning just to stop the ceaseless patronizing questions but then thought better of it. This was a woman that sensed weakness and went after it like a shark to chum.
It didn’t matter that the woman’s voice maintained a lilt of enthusiasm in her voice, Cora could sense that it stemmed from the pleasure of reminding her of her station. The woman certainly thrived on pointing out Cora’s shortcomings. What mattered more to her now, sitting so close, was the animosity that simmered just beneath the skin. The lines around her eyes and mouth were anything but laugh lines, they were full of hate and fury. That is the aspect of this woman that had Cora pressing herself close to the door, putting as much distance between them.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.” Cora groaned inwardly. The simple nods or shrugs when Lara asked questions must not have given her much satisfaction. Inside, she could feel her inner beast on the prowl, clearly disgruntled by the superior airs this woman gave off.
“But I want to! I mean, after all, Brock has forced us both into some unfortunate circumstances to meet his...needs.” She spat the word out in disgust. “You provide him an heir so that his status will not be challenged, and me...well, all he wanted was to fulfill that damn contract so he could expand his prides’ lands. I’d say that makes us spirit sisters!” When Lara turned to look at her, Cora could not repress the grimace at the words, spirit sisters. “Yeah, okay, maybe more like kindred cousins.”
“Honestly, I appreciate the effort, but it really is okay,” she said placatingly so as not to offend the woman driving.
Shoving at a too-large sleeve, Cora turned her attention back to the window and all the trees that flew by as they made their way to her parent’s house. Her brain was muddled with the events of the last few days, and all she wanted to do was sort through them all and figure things out. However, since she had been shuffled into the car in the generous-sized clothes Lara had brought her, her quiet contemplation had been consistently interrupted.
The jacket had been zipped up as far as it would go, shielding her from any prying eyes of those that were roaming the castle when she left. Though she had the hoodie pulled over her head and it nearly drowned her in its immensity, Lara had insisted she pull her hair back in a ponytail to keep her tresses from falling loose. She had claimed that her hair was too distinct and she would be spotted immediately, maybe even detained.
The sweat pants she wore were cinched tightly, and she still had to roll them at the waist to prevent herself from stepping on the elastic cuff. The v-neck t-shirt she was given looked more like a plunging neckline on her, which made her immediately grateful for the jacket she wore over the top of it. As enormous as the attire was on her, she still took some small satisfaction in being able to don something other than the tattered robe. To be able to hide within the excess of fabric actually brought her a modicum of comfort, though she knew she would not be able to remain hidden in their confines for long.
Taking one of her hands off the wheel, Lara reached her hand over to squeeze Cora’s arm quickly before returning it. Though it might have been intended to be a friendly gesture, it felt rehearsed and mechanical...unnatural.
“But, I want to. It will help us to get to know one another, and maybe even kill some time until we get you home.” It was a losing battle for Cora, so she simply shrugged while her lioness grumbled.
“My father was a strong and opinionated man. I suppose if the man had a weakness it would be me.” She grinned, almost proud of that announcement. “So, naturally when I turned eighteen, he planned a huge celebration in my name. We’re talking live bands, catered food, a huge pool at the pride manor, and nearly every lion shifter within a hundred-mile radius of the place. I may not have been a princess at that time, but my father always treated me like one.” For a moment, her eyes seemed to glaze over at the fond memory of it.
“Shifter servants waited on us all and it all felt so regal. I finally felt like the pampered princess, like our own little Arwen was during those days.” There was that name again, and with it came a pause in the conversation. The woman was living in the past, somewhere beyond where Cora was able to see.
After several long moments had passed, the woman picked up her line of thought and continued. “You know, it felt good to have people who both knew me and didn’t treat me like they had known me all their life. It felt...powerful.” She turned to look at Cora, taking her eyes off the road for longer than Cora felt comfortable. Her small hand on the seatbelt across her chest clutched at it even tighter, her body tensing from the dangerous inattention being paid to the road before them. “Does that sound strange?”
Shaking her head, Cora lifted a finger in front of her, pointing to the road ahead. “I think it is all a matter of perspective, but maybe we should focus on what’s in front of us?”
She cringed, her suggestion sounding more like a question than a directive. Your lioness is strong, but you have yet to harness her power. At least that is what Brock had told her, but the last nineteen years of her life were spent cowing to others. Others being practically everyone else but her lioness. The poor beast of hers had been tamped down for so long that Cora wondered how she had not managed to break free of her hold before now if she was that capable.
Lara let the indignant twist of her lips form into a smile that spread wide without the warmth that one might find comfort in. “Ah yes, I suppose we should. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you. Well, you and that cub.” A shiver rattled itself down her spine before she could shake it off. Her lioness was another matter as she would not be able to shake her off.
“So, where was I?” Turning her eyes back to the road, Cora wondered if she actually saw what was in front of her. “Ah, yes. The party! It was going great, you know. Everyone was having such a good time, especially me,” she gave her a quick glance and waggled her brows at her. There was a certain gleam in her eyes as she was retelling the story, one that made Cora a bit cautious. Somehow, mirth didn’t sit well on this woman’s features, it looked untamed and wild. “As time passed, others arrived and showed their respects to me before blending into the crowd,” she gave an audible sigh before her face turned dark, her fingers tightening on the steering wheel. “But when Marcus showed up with his date, the whole atmosphere changed. Can you believe that he brought a wolf-shifter among lions?”
Cora blinked a couple of times as Lara sat waiting for an answer. What was the appropriate response? “I suppose...I don’t understand…” Her words were hesitant and she let them hang, not quite sure what was so wrong about a wolf-shifter attending this woman’s party. It was pretty clear that this woman did not approve of the intermingling of shifter species. What would she say when she found out that her own parents were wolf-shifters?
“Surely you know that lion shifters are so much more dominant than lowly wolves? We are stronger, faster, smarter,” she looked like she was trying to find more words to say, but instead just shook her head. “Most wolves know it, too. To have a lion shifter bring a wolf brought so much attention to this poor girl. Luckily, they did the same thing as all the rest: paid their respects, thanked me for the invite, then mingled with the others. But, I did not invite a wolf to my party,” Lara growled hotly.
After a few moments of silence had passed, Cora had hoped that storytime was over. However, when Lara giggled, it confirmed the contrary. The sound was eerie as it echoed within the mostly empty vehicle. The car still had that new car smell, the immaculately clean interior giving credence to the fact that it was not so long ago driven off the lot. But, that laughter...there was something sinister in it that caused her flesh to crawl.
“That wolf got what was coming to her,” she said darkly. “They were not there long before one of the servants wandered over to offer them a drink, and her date caught that servant’s scent,” she laughed loudly before finishing. “Well, I imagine you know the rest.” The pointed look she gave Cora made her flinch, the reminder of what she did in the ballroom pinning her in that look.
“You should have seen the expression on that wolf’s face. It was like someone had taken away her lifeline and she was left to drown. Of course, I was mortified at the spectacle right there on my birthday. But the magnetic pull brought around by full moons does make it more difficult for shifters to resist the mating call, much like your own. So you couldn’t blame them, right?” She glanced at Cora from the corner of her eye but did not wait for a reply. “I was a little irate, so I went to splash some water on my face. I mean, after all, it is extremely rare for mates to find one another, so I had to respect it, right?” Again, she cast her glance sideways but did not wait. “When a gun fired, I think everyone in that party froze. No one could have expected that. Right between that poor woman’s eyes, it was. There was never a more perfect shot, I would say.” Cora shifted in her seat. If she did not know any better, she would have thought this woman was proud. She must have been mistaken.
“They found the gun on that crazy she-wolf. Arrested her right there on the spot and took her to the king. I have no idea where Darcy is these days, but I imagine her brother worked his magic and managed to help her escape her fate.” Cora jerked her head towards Lara in shock, the malicious grin on the woman’s face was unmistakable.
Stunned, Cora felt like a weight had been placed on her chest, causing her breathing to be shallow and labored. Certainly, it couldn’t be her mother, Darcy, could it? Her stomach flipped over and again, her lion agitated and snarling. “Darcy?”
“Yeah, her and her brother, Anton, just vanished from our pride, poof! Gosh, I guess it’s been about nineteen years ago now?” Cora sat very still, taking in everything being said without the ability to relate everything back to her current circumstance...until Lara spoke once more. “After her torment and disgrace at the party, I can only imagine how much she detests lion-shifters. Can you imagine how she might treat a lion cub?”
The blood drained from Cora’s pretty heart-shaped face.