They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who ever broke my heart
And they never will.
I buried Marcus Gelly in a hole so deep, even the devils of the earth couldn’t reach him.
My dream was of him, of the day he told me it had been fun but he was done. Some other girl had caught his fancy. I don’t even remember her name. At the time, all I could think was the fact that I had given everything to Marcus: my first kiss, my love, my body.
And when I told him I loved him, all he had to say was “Thanks, but I think it’s time we moved on.”
He had other things to say, too. When I sank my knife into his chest, words came spilling out of him almost as fast as the blood.
He couldn’t make sense of it. I couldn’t, either. I barely remembered grabbing the knife Father had given to me for my fifteenth birthday, three months previous, with its jeweled handle and silver sheen, but I do remember that Marcus’s blood matched the inlaid rubies.
I also remember what finally helped my head catch up with my pounding heart: the last word out of Marcus’s lips.
His last word was my name. His last thought was of me.
That knowledge settles within me now just as it did three years ago.
That sense of rightness, of peace.
I lift my arms into the air, stretching like a car, before rolling over in bed.
A pair of brown eyes is only inches from my own. “Devils, Myron! Why are you staring at me?” I ask.
He presses a kiss to my bare shoulder. “Because your beautiful.”
Myron lies on his side, his head propped up on a closed fist. My bedsheets cover him from the waist down. It’s a wonder he fits in my bed, he’s so tall. Floppy curls sprawl across his forehead, and he flicks back his head to clear his vision. The scent of the ocean and sweat wafts over me, allowing me to gag.
With a hand, I keep the sheets held up over my chest as I ride to a sitting position. “Last night was fun, but you should go, I have much to do today.”
Myron stares at my chest, and I roll my eyes.
“Perhaps again later?” I ask
He looks up at me, before his eyes flit meaningfully to my chest once more.
No, wait. Not my chest. To the hand holding the sheets in place and the extra weight I now feel there.
There’s a diamond on my finger. It’s beautiful, cut in an egg shape and buried in gold. It sinks in the morning light as I tilt my hand side to side. The ring is by far the most expensive trinket he’s ever given me.
“Anastasia Banker, I love you. Will you marry me?”
Laughter fills the room, and Myron flinches at it. I quickly place my free hand over my lips.
“What are you thinking?” I say a moment later. “Of course not.” I stare down at the gorgeous ring once more. With this gift, Myron has outlived his usefulness. For some reason, my lovers cease to give me expensive presents once I turn down their proposals.
“But we’re so happy together,” he says. “I will cherish you every day. Give you everything you deserve. I will treat you like a princess.” If only he knew I have my sights set a bit higher than that. “It’s a very kind and tempting offer, but I’m not ready to settle down just yet.”
“But— I’ve shared your bed,” he splutters.
Yes, he and three other boys this month.
“And now it’s time for you to leave it.” I move to rise from the bed when the door to my chambers hurts open.
Myron freezes with his hand outstretched toward me, and my father, Sergio Banker, Lord Massi, looks down at what he can see of our naked bodies.
“Leave.” He notes out in a deathly quiet voice. My father is shorter than my five and a half feet, but he’s built like a bull with a thick neck, wide shoulders., and keen eyes that pierce to the soul.
Myron tries to take the sheets with him, but I’ve got them firmly clamped around myself. When he faults to wrest them from me, he reaches to grab his pants.
“Leave now,” father specifies
“Listen or I will have you whipped!”
Myron stands. Barely. He bunches as though he can hide his tall frame. He makes it halfway to the door before turning. “My ring?”
“Surely you want me to keep it? So I can remember our time together?”
Myron’s face twists. He has one foot pointed toward the door and the other myself.
Myron takes off at a run, nearly tripping over my fathers boots as he bolts over the threshold. Once he’s gone, Father turns towards me.
“You make it difficult for me to find you a suitable match when you’re caught with a new bedfellow every night”
“Don’t be ridiculous, father. That was Myron’s fifth stay.”
“Anastasia! You just stop this. It is time for you to grow up. To settle down.”
“Has Chrisy found a husband, then?” Father knows very well the law forbids me to marry until my older sister does. There is an order to things.
Father treads over to the bed. “The shadow king has dismissed a number of single women from the palace, Chrisy among them. I’d go led your sister would catch his eye, rare beauty that she is.”
Oh, yes. Chrisy is a rare beauty. She’s also dumb as a rock.
“But it was not meant to be.” Father concludes.
“Myron’s free.” I offer
Father levels a glare at me. “She will not wed him. Chrisy will be a duchess. I’ve already made arrangements with the Duke of Philips. He’s an aging man who wants a pretty girl on his arm. It’s done. That means it’s your turn.”
“You’ve suddenly taken an interest in my future, have you?” I ask, just to be difficult.
“I’ve always had your interests in mind.”
A complete untruth. The only time father bothers to think of me is when he catches me doing something he thinks I shouldn’t. Chrisy has been his focus my entire life.
Father continues, “I’m going to approach the Earl of Orcios to discuss the match of you and his son, who will inherit one day. Soon, I should thonk, given Aterxes ailing health. That should make you happy.”
“Your certainly not going to remain my problem forever”
“So touching father, but I’ve got my sights set on another man.”
“And just whom would that be?”
I stand, pulling the sheet up with me, before tucking it under my arms. “The shadow king, of course.”
Father guffaws. “I think not. With your reputation, it’ll be a miracle if I can get any nobleman’s son to have you.”
“My reputation is known my none, save those whom it directly concerns.”
“Men do not keep the exploits of the bedroom to themselves.”
I smile. “They do when it’s me.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not stupid, father. I have something on every man who has seen the inside of this room. Myron has an unfortunate gambling problem. He lost a family heirloom in a game of cards. Blamed the missing pendant on a servant, got him whipped and fired. His father wouldn’t be happy to hear of it. And Damon? I happen to know he’s part of a group of smugglers importing illegal weapons into the city. He’d be sent to prison if the truth ever came out. And let’s not forget Nestor, who’s quite fond of the opium dens. I could go on naming all my lovers, but I think you get the idea.”
Though his face doesn’t change, fathers shoulders lose some of their tension. “Such winning gentlemen you keep around, darling.”
“The point is, father, I know what I’m doing. And I’m going to keep doing whatever I wish, because I’m the master of myself. And you? You’re going to send me to the palace with the next wave of women to see the king, because if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s getting men to propose to me.” K flash the diamond on my finger in his direction.
Fathers eyes narrow. “How long have you been planning this?”
“You said nothing when I sent Chrisy to the palace.”
“Father, Chrisy couldn’t catch the attention of a rabid dog. Besides, beauty isn’t enough to catch the eye of the shadow king. He has beauties paraded infront of him all year long.
“Send me, I will get us a palace.” I finish.
The room is quiet for a full minute.
“You’ll need new dresses,” father says at last, “ and I won’t get your sisters bride price for weeks yet. That won’t be enough time.”
I pull the ring from my finger and stare down at it lovingly. Why does he think I’ve taken so many lovers? They’re fun, to be sure, but most important, they’re going to finance my stay at the palace.
I hold up the ring where my father can see it. “There’s plenty more where this came from.”
Sewing has always been a hobby of mine, but it is impossible for me to make alll new clothing required for my upcoming plans in such a short amount of time. Working with my favorite seamstress, I design and commission ten new day outfits, five evening gowns, and three appropriately indecent nightgowns.
Father takes no part in planning, as he is much too busy with his accountant, worrying over the estate. He’s bankrupt and desperately trying to hide it. Rita jot his fault. Fathers quote competent, but the land just isn’t producing as it once was. Disease swept through a few years ago and killed most of the live stock. Every year, the crops have grown thinner and more and more tenants are staring to leave.
The Massi estate is dying, and Father needs to acquire decent bride prices for my sister and me in order to keep his lands running.
Though I’m aware of the situation, I haven’t bothered to worry about it. My lovers all feel the need to give me nice things. Very expensive things. It’s been a fun game. Learning their secrets. Seducing them. Getting them to shower me with gifts.
But to be honest?
I’m bored with it.
I have a new game in mind.
I’m going to woo the king.
I suspect it won’t be longer than a month before he’s helplessly inlove with ms. And when he proposes, I will say yes for the first time.
For once the marriage is official and consummated.
I will kill the shadow king and take his kingdom for myself.
Only this time, I won’t have to bury the body. I’ll find a convenient scapegoat and leave the shadow king for someone to discover. The world will need to know that I’m the last royal left.