A Game of Hearts

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Chapter 15- No innuendo intended

“I believe we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”

-Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

I found Opal lecturing some of the newer guards on regulations and procedures for attacks on the palace, her white uniform immaculate as ever. Viktorya cleared her throat catching the Captain of the Guards attention. Opal’s eyes widened in surprise at finding us in her part of the palace. The hidden boiler room wasn’t one I liked to frequent often since it was the place Thelonious had branded me with a scalding iron.

The new guards scrambled to stand and salute.

“Drop the formalities. As you were, please.” I smiled.

They hesitantly sat down, unsure of what to do with themselves in my presence.

“Opal, I was hoping to get a quick word with you, please.”

“Of course, your majesty.”

She motioned for her sister, Diamond, to take over. Viktorya and I followed Opal into one of the rooms she was using as an office. Papers were stacked in neat little piles on her desk. A map of our territory was pinned to the wall behind it. Other than that, there wasn’t much that the captain had done to it. The room was tiny and the lack of windows made me feel the room was closing in on me. Every second here brought back the pain and memories of that horrible day.

I inhaled and exhaled in a steady rhythm. I would not let my experience with Thelonious deter my life. It was a promise I had made myself after I’d been taken out of the running for queen in the game of crowns. The man was dead and would have no hold over me.

I looked over at Opal, who stood uncertainty to the side of her chair. Viktorya discretely left the room, giving us a semblance of privacy. Opal’s eyes darted from me to the door, and back.

“Take a seat, Opal.”

Her brown eyes widened. I didn’t want to be the person that corrected her friend’s mistakes but it needed to be done.

“Did I do something wrong?” She asked, tugging a stray strand of curly brown hair, at the base of her neck.

I sighed and leaned against the door. “The council learned of Cane’s identity and proposal because you told your sister when you shouldn’t have.”

Her bottom lip trembled. “I didn’t mean to. I only mentioned it to Diamond, who would never…”

“No, you’re right. She wouldn’t, but you were overheard, and it created a problem with the council that I would have preferred to avoid.”

She stood and rushed around the tan desk and fell onto her knees. “Forgive me, it will never happen again.”

I pinched the space between my brows, exasperated by the situation. “And what of my run-in with Olivia?”

She paled.

I knew it wasn’t a necessary thing that needed to be kept quiet but I wanted my personal life as private as possible.

“You told Killian.”

She stuttered. “He asked how his sister had been conducting herself in his and Tobias’ absence and I told him how she confronted you.” She gulped and continued. “I am sorry, your majesty. I will do better.”

“I trust you with my life, Opal,” I said, helping her off the ground. “I just expect a little discretion from those around me.”

“I understand,” she replied quickly.

I smiled. “Okay, then. Thank you for all of your hard work. I need to meet with the council now. Oh and please convey any security details about my trip into the village tomorrow to Viktorya.”

She bowed and I left the stuffy room. I relayed my request to Viktorya about tomorrow and she remained behind. She would find me after.

***

I took a deep breath before entering the council’s war room; shoulders back, head held high, and eyes clear. If they got a whiff of blood in the water, they would pounce.

Several members stood and bowed as I entered. There were a few who remained seated, stubbornly ignoring proper court etiquette. Normally, Viktorya would tear into them, but she wasn’t here and they knew I wouldn’t harass them over something so trivial. It was a power move on their part but I wouldn’t play their game.

“Finally,” Caius muttered.

I rolled my eyes. The guy was getting on my nerves. Every single meeting he tried to make a play for more responsibility or power. He had taken over his father’s position upon his death and he had been lobbying hard for majority votes to get what he wanted to be done. Thankfully, I had Viktorya. Without her sleuthing then I doubt we would have ever learned anything about him or his circle of cronies on the council. Not even Trixie had been able to come up with anything. I hadn’t wanted to use Viktorya but she took it upon herself, saying she hadn’t minded since he was easy on the eyes.

“Georgiana went into labor and I had some other things to take care of but I’m here now. What was so important that an unscheduled meeting was called for?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.

One of the older members stood. “We learned of the King of Terra’s identity and his proposal. We are here to urge you to reconsider your answer and accept.”

“No.”

A few mouths fell open.

“You cannot simply…,” one began.

“No,” I repeated.

“Your highness, be reasonable. The merging of our territories would be greatly beneficial,” another argued.

“I’ve given you all enough free reign in my personal life by allowing the game and forcing me into a marriage.”

“But King Romulus…,” one of the members began.

“I cannot accept his proposal. It wouldn’t be fair to the other participants,” I said, trying another tactic.

“Well then. It’s an easy solution,” Caius voiced. “Simply reinstate him into the game.”

I struggled not to groan aloud. These people were persistent. I’d give them that. “Fine,” I said, giving in.

“Great, we’ll be sure to notify him that his place is still secure in the game,” Caius grinned.

“Is that all?” I asked, anxious to leave.

He nodded.

I left the room. I’d let them think they’d won today but I had no intention of marrying King Romulus Cane Whitehill.

“Good meeting?”

I squealed and aimlessly threw a punch. Thankfully, Viktorya blocked it.

She snickered. “Trixie would be ashamed.”

“Are you going to tell her?” I asked, trying to hide my embarrassment.

She shrugged as she grinned. “So, how did it go?”

I gave her a quick recap of the meeting and asked for her opinion.

“Caius said the only reason they knew about the proposal was that the King himself revealed it to them. He’d heard the rumors going around but didn’t believe them until Cane approached the council himself.”

“Of course he did,” I voiced aloud, frustrated with whatever game the King of Terra was playing.

I changed my course to Cane’s room instead of my parents. It was getting late, the natural light the sun provided slowly faded from the palace. I wouldn’t visit my parents tonight and a part of me was relieved that I didn’t have to face them without any answers.

Viktorya walked with me in silence, surprisingly subdued. Something was wrong but I wouldn’t prod. She’d tell me when she was ready. We all had our own troubles and I could tell her mind was deeply entrenched in her thoughts.

“So, I was thinking maybe you could try talking to Caius and getting an update on the council’s line of thinking regarding their wanting to merge the territories.”

Viktorya abruptly stopped walking.

I turned back to face her. “What’s wrong?”

“You can’t whore me out every time you want information,” she fumed.

“Uh…What?”

“I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Heat flooded my entire body at what she was insinuating. “Viktorya, I’ve never asked you to do that. I wasn’t asking you to do that now. I asked if you could talk to him, no innuendo intended. I’ve listened to the tales you’ve told me of your time with Caius but I’d never imagined you were doing that because you thought that was what I wanted or expected of you,” I said, appalled.

She shook her head vigorously. “That isn’t what I meant. Anything I did with Caius I did because I wanted to. I’m sorry that I made it sound like you expected it of me. I overreacted. It’s just that... I’m sort of seeing someone.”

I rubbed my hands together, gleefully. “Tell me everything.”

She chuckled. “It’s nothing official or anything. We’re friends and we’ve been getting to know each other. Nothing more than that, honest, but he’s different, Penelope. I really like him.”

“What’s his name?” I asked, invested in her happiness.

“I’m not ready for anyone to know yet,” she said shyly, not looking at me.

“That’s fine, but I want to be the first to know when you are ready. I’m here for all the girly stuff. Georgiana is going to burst when you tell her,” I laughed happily. “All we want is for you to be happy.”

“I know,” she smiled. “I’ll speak with Caius and see what I can get out of him.”

“You’re the best. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I don’t know either,” she chuckled and changed the subject. “Are you heading to Cane’s?”

“Yes, I need to see where his mind is at. He agreed to leave last time we spoke but now he found a way to entrench himself further into the council’s favor.”

“I’ll leave you to it then. I’ll be at the stables if you need me.”

“Ooo, a date maybe?” I teased.

“See you later,” she said, rushing away.

It was so easy to ruffle her feathers.

There were plenty of eligible men in the palace and I wondered what type of man could catch the eye of a woman like her. My heart lurched for a second thinking it was Tobias since she had had feelings for him in the past but I quickly shut that down. Tobias wouldn’t encourage her and she wouldn’t do that to me. Time would reveal all. I couldn’t wait to tease her over her new love interest.

I continued towards Cane’s room and made sure to knock. I’d learned my lesson about barging into people’s room’s unannounced last year when I accidentally saw Rowan in all his nakedness.

I knocked and waited, but Cane did not answer. Maybe he was asleep. It was late but not quite as late as last time I visited and he hadn’t been asleep then. I knocked harder and shuffling could be heard from his room.

Cane pulled open the door, groggily pulling on a long-sleeved button-up. I quickly looked away to allow him some privacy while he made himself somewhat presentable. I followed him into his room and hesitated whether I should leave the door open or closed. Again, not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I left it open.

He chuckled as he slipped on a pair of pajama bottoms. “I don’t mind if you look.”

I rolled my eyes and turned to face him. “What are your intentions here, Cane?” You’ve already gracefully bowed out yet you tell the council of your identity and proposal.”

He smugly leaned against the foot of his bed, arms crossed. “I told you, I came here for you and I don’t plan on leaving here without making you my wife and Terra’s consort queen.”

I tried to concentrate on his words but his face took all the words out of my mouth. The curve of his left eye and cheekbone showed a slight bruise. “What happened?”

“You happened when you slammed your head into my face the last time you visited.

Oh. The tussle.

My cheeks heated at the embarrassing memory of Cane accidentally groping me.

He smirked as if he could read my thoughts, the jerk.

I took a stroll around his room, noticing that his table no longer was littered with books and notes. It was a conversation for another day and unfortunately, he’d be here for more.

“Well, it looks like you finagled a way into staying in the competition.”

“I’ll make the most of it,” he replied assuredly.

I shook my head. “I’m sure you will.” I sighed. “Will you meet me for lunch the day after tomorrow? I’d like to find out more about your kingdom.”

He genuinely smiled at my request. “Yes, of course.”

Good. I’d use the opportunity to find out everything I could about the mysterious faction that kidnapped my parents and whatever else I could learn from Cane.

“In the meantime, I’ll be watching you,” I said, walking to his door.

He chuckled darkly. “Good. I’ll make sure to give a good show.”

I scoffed as I shut his door.

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