Chapter 1 - Favel's Mansion
Everything that happened after Sardius’ earpiece was destroyed in the prison riot was a blur to Jenna. Her escape pod was inserted in a room that had air, but no opaque walls. Peering into the mansion, it was clear that there was no privacy there. There were only transparent walls and it soon became clear why. Octavians spoke through gestures, so they needed big screens to show the full intent of the speaker instead of hearing their voice. Each of the transparent walls could become a screen.
Jenna spoke into the panel inside her pod that did voice-to-text and her words were translated into Octavian and displayed on the wall for Favel to read.
She hadn’t gotten to the part where she explained that Sardius was gone before Favel was rushing to do damage control. She didn’t know what he did or who he spoke to. She was told to stay in the bed/pod. She lowered the glass and breathed the briniest air she’d ever breathed, but she didn’t slide off the bed.
The mattress hugged her as she played with her earpiece, hoping that Sardius would miraculously come back online.
In the next minute, Favel was sending questions to Jenna about Sardius. Since the Octavians had stopped recording him, they didn’t know what had happened. They had to get the answers from Jenna.
She explained and Favel sent her a reassuring message that he would contact the prison.
Thirty tense minutes later, he poured himself into a halfway box. It was one of the things her grandfather had taught her about. Initially, the halfway box was filled with water. Favel got inside and closed the lid. Most of the water was then pumped out and replaced with air. When enough air had been added, Favel opened a hatch into Jenna’s room. He spread out his tentacles, lowering himself gently onto the floor that was nothing but a grate over a wide drain.
“What did the prison say?” Jenna asked hopefully.
“They didn’t reply. However, the riot you mentioned was a catastrophe so serious that the women’s prison next to Sardius’ jail could tell me a few things. What happened was that the government Sardius opposed before his imprisonment lost the election. They lost big time!” Favel stretched out his tentacles, making himself into a huge pentagon (a few of his tentacles kept him in place before he continued). “When the new government was inaugurated, it meant that Sardius was no longer a criminal. In the past when he fought alongside them, they were the rebels. Now they’re the ruling government of his system. In response to the change, the guards in charge of the prison began executing all the political prisoners. They had to stop the new government from getting any additional power, and the prisoners fought back. It seems order hasn’t been restored yet.”
Jenna wrung her hands painfully before getting off the bed and sitting on the grate beside Favel. “So you don’t know if Sardius was killed by the guards?”
“No. We don’t know, but Sardius is a first-class killer, and he wasn’t bound inside his cell, so there’s a good chance he survived. I didn’t tell you half the things he was guilty of.” Favel paused and changed the subject. “We have good news from the Dahlia palace. None of your staff was hurt. Sardius got word to Smoothie fast enough that she was able to disarm the soldiers who entered the servants’ wing. She called the overland police and they just finished apprehending all six soldiers. They’ll be held in prison until they can be retrieved by the military. There is bad news though.”
“Not all the soldiers went to the servants’ wing. Some of them went to your room and they ripped the place apart looking for your unused crowns.” Favel showed her a view of her room from the palace’s security feed by projecting the video against the glass wall.
The room was a complete mess. They’d ripped the walls apart, tore her mattress to shreds, pulled up her carpet, and left the room in utter turmoil.
“Would you like to stay here tonight or would you like to join Excelyn in the Stone Palace? It’s quite late,” he said kindly.
“I feel sick, Favel. Sick!” she almost screamed. “This is worse than those damn liplo fruits squirming around inside me. This is worse than puking them up. I can’t stand this. Sardius protected me like a bulldog: all night and all day. He protected my whole staff. He was the one who chose Smoothie and Misha and Vash. And they’re great people. I was such an idiot. I completely took it for granted that he was safe in his maximum-security prison. You would not believe the unkind things I said to him when no one was around. I didn’t even tell him how much I…needed him,” she finished feebly.
Favel made a sound.
Jenna wasn’t sure what it meant. Her head shot up. “Are you laughing?”
He blinked. “No. I’m not. I’m sure Sardius knew you needed him. That was why he wanted the job. Sardius wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted to do an easy job. I think he was torn in half about you. One side of him wanted to protect you from anything awful that could happen and the other side wanted you to have it tough, so you could get stronger.”
Jenna wiped at her face. Whether her cheeks were wet from sweat or tears, she didn’t know.
“It’s certain he cared about you no matter what words you said to each other. He made sure I submitted the paperwork to register your marriage… Now if you want my opinion, I should escort you up to the Stone Palace.”
“Why can’t I stay down here? For now, I feel like I would be safer here. If I were someone looking to undermine me by stealing the crowns, I wouldn’t have only planned the one attack. I would have planned to hit the Stone Palace next, but I wouldn’t hit it until after I had joined Excelyn. I feel like everyone will be much safer if I stay down here tonight.”
Favel lowered his head. “All right. If you think that’s better.”
Jenna placed a kiss on his mantle, just above his eye. She pulled away and smiled at him.
His eyes cut to a spot to his right.
Jenna looked there too. A cluster of octopi had eyes pressed up against the glass.
“I think perhaps you are not used to living in a house with glass walls,” he said, making a heroic attempt to sound lighthearted.
Jenna sighed. “Sardius warned me about this. He was annoyed I poured water over you. You were looking so dry. That can’t be good for you.”
“He clearly didn’t warn you seriously enough,” Favel said dryly. Almost all the good nature had left his voice. He moved back to the halfway box. “With your permission, I’ll send your staff to prepare the Lotus Palace for you to use while the Dahlia Palace is being repaired. It’s on the tab of the AAMC, and they say they’re willing to pay. Don’t let them fix it with their own contractors. Choose people yourself.”
“How can I do any of that without Sardius?” she asked limply.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning. Excelyn began a selection process only a day or two ago for a personal assistant and even if she did choose someone from the men’s prison, they can’t serve her now. I’m sure the two of you can work together to get decent personal assistants for yourselves from the women’s prison. In the meantime, use the screens in your pod.”
He was leaving in such a cold way, and Jenna couldn’t allow it. She jumped up and followed him to the halfway box. He got inside and was about to close the box when she grabbed it. “Favel. I see I shouldn’t have kissed you, but I don’t know what harm I’ve done. You have to tell me.”
He dropped his eyes. “It’s not that you have done anything wrong. It’s that you have raised the expectations of my people even further. Do you know how many Adamis diplomats have honored our traditions and actually married an Octavian for their second spouse?”
“There hasn’t been one in eighty years. They take their third spouse and their first spouse, but they don’t form a tie with an Octavian. Watching us, all those members of my household think there is something going on between us.”
“Not romance?” Jenna clarified.
“No, but they think a special sort of camaraderie has sprung up between us. It makes them so hopeful about you and what you’ll be able to do for our people if you love me so much.”
“They hope we’ll get married?”
“Yes,” Favel said gravely. “They know that unlike everyone else on the Octavia Council, I have only had seven spouses. That’s why I was chosen as chair and why you have had more to do with me than any other Octavian…”
“Everyone is hoping I’ll marry you. They planned it,” Jenna finished for him.
“The Adamis are not. They like it when their diplomats show unwavering support for their race. That was how Arvantis got that insane contract with Vinia. They made his contract legal in exchange for him signing papers declaring his intention to never form a tie with an Octavian.”
Jenna rubbed her eyes. She had no idea what time it was and what Favel said weighed heavily on her mind. She glanced back at the wall. Three times as many eyes were now staring at them.
“I’ll let you go,” Jenna said before removing her hand and letting him close the door to the halfway box.
She dried off her feet and got back into the bed. She found the controls and pushed the button that raised the walls. She did it to make herself feel like she had some privacy, but there were still so many eyes staring at her. She fiddled with the controls longer and found a setting that oxygenated and purified the air she breathed while inside. Then she found a control that shut out light by turning the glass to opaque black. Then she found the nightlight inside and a stash of emergency food that had been stored.
Jenna chuckled. It wasn’t really food. It was preserved meal replacements stored in bags with straws.
Alone with her thoughts and with herself, Jenna could have screamed. Naturally, she had been planning to marry Sardius and Favel. She needed allies. She had also checked out all the majors the AAMC had sent her to see if there was a decent first husband among them. The idea perished rather harshly as she was running out of options. She hadn’t been given very many tools for forming alliances. The only thing she had absolutely been given was the ability to marry more than one man.
The thing about Sardius that Jenna had explained quietly to Favel at the dinner where she removed her earpiece was that Sardius had the opportunity to be something different to her than any of her other alliances. He wasn’t doing anything else. Her other husbands would leave her for other responsibilities. Not Sardius. He was there for her night and day. She found his voice to be dead-sexy and he was helpful every minute of every day. When she heard his voice, she felt something leap up in her chest because whatever he was about to say was a gift, a surprise.
Not only was he a constant source of joy to her, but he was in prison and she thought no one could ever hurt him there. No one could ever take him hostage and make her do what they wanted because she couldn’t bear for Sardius to be hurt.
If her marriage to him somehow became public knowledge, it would be magnificent publicity for her. No man could satisfy her but a pirate and a terrorist. For her, it had to be a man so proven in battle that she didn’t look like a pushover. She looked like his equal, cunning and ruthless.
Of Jenna’s greatest fears, she feared being seen as easy. She wasn’t easy! She was a monster and she needed a man who was a monster by her side… even if only the shadow of him was there. At least, everyone would know he was in her ear, telling her how to break convictions and reorganize power.
And now she wasn’t going to get him.
It was a loss on so many levels. It was the loss of every minute of every day. Forgetting all the other bonuses Sardius represented, it was the loss of the click of his tongue in her ear that undid her.
She cried in the darkness.