Ruined (Ruined, #1)(7)

Written By: Amy Tintera

Em scanned the room for weapons. A mirror was attached to one wall, but it was too large for her to break. There was a large platter of fruit on the table, and the white ceramic plate was likely sturdy enough to do some damage when smashed against a skull. One, three, six steps and she could weave around the maids to get to the far corner of the room—grab the plate, duck a maid, smash it against the queen’s head, spin around and push a maid away, use an edge of the broken plate to cut a jagged line across the queen’s throat. Dead.

“Mary,” the queen said, extending her arms to her.

Em clenched her fingers into a fist, fighting back the urge to scream. She hadn’t counted on how difficult it would be to stand in the presence of the people who had destroyed her life. When she’d stepped out of the carriage yesterday, she’d almost grabbed Aren’s sword and swung it at the king’s head.

She took in a slow breath. Calm. Steady. Her mother was the scariest woman she’d ever known—the scariest woman most people had ever known—and it was partly because she never lost her temper. If she wanted to kill you, you didn’t know it until the knife was already in your gut.

Em needed to be like her mother right now.

Perhaps the queen realized Em didn’t want to be hugged, because she took both of Em’s hands instead and squeezed them. When she smiled, the small half-circle scar on her left cheek moved. It was the only interesting thing on an otherwise boringly beautiful face.

“How was your first night? Were your rooms adequate?”

“They were perfect, Your Majesty,” Em said.

“Please, call me Fabiana,” the queen said, dropping Em’s hands. “We’ll be family soon.”

“Of course.” Fabiana was a terrible name, so Em would be happy to call her by it.

“What do you think of Lera so far?” the queen asked. “Different than Vallos, isn’t it? Less dreary.”

“Much less,” Em said, noting the subtle dig at Vallos. “And how does Lera compare to Olso? I hear it’s cold there.”

Fabiana barely lifted one eyebrow. “Lera is less . . . rigid.”

“I’m sure it is.” Em had never visited Olso, but she knew the warriors—the group of men and women who protected the country—well. Fabiana used to be one of them, before she defected to Lera, bringing secret information with her. She was probably the most famous traitor in all of Olso. Em had reminded the warriors of Fabiana’s betrayal when she approached them about partnering with her. They’d happily agreed to join Em’s mission.

The door opened, and a dark-haired girl stepped into the room.

“Jovita!” the queen exclaimed. “I’m glad you could join us.”

Em took a long look at the king’s niece. She was second in line to the Lera throne. Though she was around the same age as Em, something about the way she carried herself made her seem much older. She was a little shorter than Em but still had a formidable look about her. Her shoulders were broad and strong, her arm muscles rippling beneath her thin gray tunic every time she moved, and she didn’t smile much, though Em didn’t think it was because she was unhappy. She just seemed like the kind of girl who didn’t smile simply to make others feel comfortable.

“I thought I’d stop by and see how our new princess is settling in.” She strode across the room to the tray of fruit and popped a grape in her mouth. Em frowned. It would be very difficult to get to her weapon of choice with Jovita standing in front of it.

“Perfect timing. She’s about to try on the dress.” The queen gestured to the maids and one of the women scurried away, returning with a pile of blue material so high it almost covered her face.

“If you could take your clothes off, please, Mary,” the queen said with a wave of her hand.

One of the girls began unbuttoning her pink monstrosity, and Em ducked her head to hide her flaming cheeks as the dress fell to the ground. Perhaps these women often undressed in front of total strangers, but Em had never been in her underwear in front of anyone but her mother and sister.

“We’ll take your measurements and have some more clothes brought to you,” the queen said as the girls took away Mary’s dress. Em detected a hint of disdain as the queen examined the garment. She was suddenly very fond of it.

The girls held open the blue dress for Em and she quickly stepped in, eager to be covered again. The fabric was cool and smooth against her skin, and it flared out from her waist extravagantly. The ruched bodice hugged her torso, and a beautiful chain of beads wrapped around the waistline. It was elegant in its simplicity, and Em gingerly touched the soft fabric.

“Oh yes, that’s lovely.”

Em looked up to see the queen standing next to the mirror. She stepped in front of it and her reflection stared back at her. The dress was even more stunning when she could see it in its full glory. It was the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen. Olivia would have clapped and done a happy dance if she’d been there.

Tears pricked her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said as one slipped down her cheek. She quickly wiped it away.

“You wish your mother were here?” the queen guessed.

Em nodded. The real Mary probably would have cried for her dead family too. Perhaps any girl in this situation would have cried, regardless of the status of her mother. She had to marry Casimir, after all.

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