Ruined (Ruined, #1)(5)

Written By: Amy Tintera

Princess Mary jumped out of the carriage, disregarding the step and kicking up some dirt in the process.

She was tall with long legs and wore a yellow dress that stretched tightly across her chest. It was also too short, revealing a bit of ankle, and Cas wondered if she’d recently grown taller or just had a terrible seamstress. A few strands of her dark hair had come loose from their tie, giving her a wild, disheveled look.

“Rumors of her beauty were . . . exaggerated,” his father muttered.

Cas actually had known one thing about Mary, as her parents had written before they died, saying she was “beautiful” and “lovely” and “so pretty and delicate.” But the girl in front of them wasn’t any of those things. She was sharp angles and hard lines. Nothing about her seemed delicate at all.

The guard sort of waved his hand in Mary’s direction. He clearly wasn’t the one who usually introduced her. “Princess Mary Anselo of Vallos.” Cas had thought they might refer to her as “Queen Mary,” but technically she hadn’t ascended to the Vallos throne following her parents’ death. Vallos belonged to Cas’s father now.

Mary’s gaze immediately slid to Cas. She had dark, intense eyes, framed by long lashes. The skin beneath them was a bit dark as well, making her look either tired or angry. Maybe both.

Cas bowed his head slightly in greeting, then focused his attention on the trees in the distance. He was less likely to jump out of his skin if he didn’t make eye contact.

The herald stepped forward and swept his arm out toward the king. “His Majesty, King Salomir Gallegos. Her Majesty, Queen Fabiana Gallegos. And His Highness, Prince Casimir Gallegos.”

“It’s lovely to meet you, Mary,” his mother said, bowing her head, then stepping forward and clasping Mary’s hands in her own. The girl seemed surprised by this, and she leaned back, as if she wanted to run away.

Cas couldn’t blame her. He was contemplating running himself.

“It’s lovely to meet you as well,” Mary said quietly.

The king beamed at her in that way he always did with women. “A pleasure.”

One side of Mary’s mouth turned up in something like a smile. Or a grimace. Cas found it difficult to read the expressions on her face.

“This is my guard, Aren,” Mary said as the young man took a step forward.

“Did you bring only one?” The king’s tone held a note of suspicion.

“Many of the Vallos guards have been sent to hunt down the Ruined,” Mary said. “A few more escorted me to the Lera border, but I thought it best to send them back where they were needed.” Her lips did something that still wasn’t quite a smile. “You have so many excellent guards here in Lera.”

“How true.” The king grinned broadly as he beckoned to Julio, the captain of Cas’s guard. “Take Aren inside and show him his quarters.”

Aren threw his bag over his shoulder and followed Julio into the castle.

Both his parents turned to Cas, like they expected him to say something, and his mouth went dry.

Mary stared at him as if she expected something as well, and he had the sudden urge to never speak again. He squarely met her gaze and immediately felt as if they were having a competition to see who would become uncomfortable first. Cas was confident he would win that competition, every time.

“Excellent,” the queen said. The king widened his eyes at his son. His mother extended her arm, slipping it through Mary’s as she steered her toward the castle. “Will your things be along shortly?”

“Everything I have is in that carriage.” She didn’t say it like she was ashamed of it. Cas took another glance at the small carriage. There couldn’t have been more than one trunk in there.

“That’s all right, it’s nice to start fresh,” the queen said smoothly. “I’ll have someone sent up immediately to get your measurements. I heard you’re very fond of dresses?”

“Who isn’t?” Mary asked.

Cas watched as they climbed the front steps and disappeared through the massive wooden doors. He’d said nothing to her at all, he realized. Maybe he should have at least asked her how her journey was, or if she needed anything.

The king sighed. “I suppose you could have done worse than Mary.”

“We should ask the priest to say that at the wedding,” Cas said. “‘And now we unite Casimir and Mary. They both could have done worse.’”


A KNOCK ON the door made Em’s eyes fly open. She gasped and scrambled upright, the sheets tangled between her feet. She rolled off the bed, yelping and hitting the ground with a thud.

She winced, pushing her hair out of her face. She was surprised she’d fallen asleep at all. She’d still been awake when the sun started peeking through the curtains, unable to sleep in a castle full of her enemies. She’d spent almost a year planning to infiltrate the castle, but the reality of being surrounded by people who would kill her if they discovered her true identity was more unsettling than anticipated.

“Your Highness?” a voice called from behind the door.

She got to her feet, straightening her nightgown. “Yes?”

The door opened to reveal Davina, one of her maids, carrying a tray of food. One of her maids. The life these people led was ridiculous. Em’s mother hadn’t employed maids.

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