Ruined (Ruined, #1)(8)

Written By: Amy Tintera

Cas. The name made her insides clench. They’d barely spoken yesterday, and she really hoped he planned to ignore her entirely. His parents had arranged this marriage; maybe he had a girl somewhere who he loved, and he would pretend Em didn’t exist.

When she’d concocted this plan, she’d known, in the back of her mind, that she’d have to deal with the wedding night. Sex was generally expected immediately following a wedding, which meant that tomorrow night she’d have to be in Cas’s bed. She’d never been in anyone’s bed.

She just wouldn’t think about it. She still had another day until the wedding, and pretending the issue didn’t exist seemed the best course of action.

Perhaps she’d focus on her plan to kill him instead. She needed Cas, at least for a little while, but she hoped to dispose of him before leaving Lera. She’d kill him before the king and queen, so they could experience a bit of the pain she’d felt when her family died.

“I’m sorry,” Em said, trying to compose herself. “I love the dress.”

“Of course you do,” the queen said. “I have excellent taste.”

Em laughed despite herself, which earned a smile of approval from the queen.

The women took some measurements and put pins in the garment, then helped Em out of it.

“Have you spoken to Cas much since arriving?” the queen asked as Em slipped the pink dress back on.

“Only a little,” Em replied. If him saying hello to her yesterday at dinner counted.

“Don’t worry, you’ll warm up to each other soon.” The queen’s lips twitched, as if she was thinking something she didn’t want to share. “Have you been told about the Union Battle?”

“Not that I recall,” Em said carefully, not sure if Mary was supposed to have that information. A maid pulled her dress tighter, trying to button it, and she sucked in a breath.

“It’s a traditional part of a royal Lera wedding,” the queen said. “The royal’s intended battles someone of his or her choice for the entertainment of everyone. With dull blades, of course.”

Em tried to hide a smile. That sounded exactly like her kind of wedding festivities.

“The point is to prove your worth and skill in battle,” Jovita said. “I, for one, am looking forward to it. You know, the queen beat the captain of the king’s guard at her battle. It was a very tough choice of competitor, and she demolished him. Everyone still talks about it.”

“Jovita, stop,” the queen said lightly. “You’ll make her nervous.” She patted Em’s hand. “You’re allowed to pick whomever you want, dear.”

The condescension was so thick Em almost laughed. It was just like the Lera royal family to think they had everyone beat.

“I was ordered to kill the Ruined king in order to marry Cas. You don’t think that proved my worth and skill in battle?” Em lied, swallowing down a wave of nausea. Mary murdering her father had been nothing more than a test to these people.

“Then I guess today won’t be a challenge at all,” Jovita said. Her smile didn’t falter, but her eyes flicked to the queen’s.

“Are you done?” the queen asked the maid who was fastening the last button. “Let’s call for Cas.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Em said quickly.

“We’ll just have him escort you back to your room,” the queen said with an amused expression. “He can’t avoid you forever, after all.” She told one of the maids to fetch him.

Em sighed and ran a hand over her hair. A glance in the mirror confirmed that she appeared tired and pale (and utterly ridiculous in the too-small pink dress), and she hoped Cas found her exceedingly unattractive.

The door opened only a few moments later to reveal Cas, wearing an expression like someone was poking him in the back with hot knives. He appeared angry, bored, or both. He glanced at her briefly but said nothing, and she shifted uncomfortably. She suspected he made everyone uncomfortable.

But he was handsome in a way that was hard to ignore, unfortunately. He had his father’s dark hair but his mother’s blue eyes, and together the effect was striking. The king had an olive complexion much like Em’s; the queen had slightly paler skin. Cas fell somewhere in the middle, his skin tanned from the constant Lera sun. He wore a thin white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and she could see muscle definition through the material. She quickly averted her gaze.

“You requested my presence, Mother?” When he finally spoke it was stiff, almost angry.

“I thought it would be nice if you escorted Mary back to her room. We’ve finished fitting her wedding dress.”

Cas didn’t glance at Em for even a moment. “Of course.”

“Lovely talking with you, dear,” the queen said. Jovita smirked, obviously still pleased with herself for throwing the new princess off balance.

Em murmured a polite reply as she stepped away from the mirror. Cas extended his arm out to her, and she took it, trying not to grimace at the contact.

Cas turned to the door so suddenly that Em almost stumbled when he tugged her forward. She grasped his arm tighter, quickly regaining her footing before she embarrassed herself by falling down at his feet.

“How was your journey to Lera?” he asked as he steered her down the hall.

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