The sun bouncing off the icicles outside his bedchamber’s window stirred Magnus from a deep sleep. He stretched his legs and shivered. Still groggy, he saw that the fire that kept his bedchamber warm despite the frigid chill of Limeros had gone out. His wool blanket had been cast aside. The only warmth came from the girl in his bed.
Which was odd, since he had not started the night with a girl in his bed.
“Amia . . .” he murmured, assuming that his favored kitchen maid had joined him in the wee hours of dawn.
“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not Amia.”
The press of cold steel against his throat made his eyes shoot wide open. He stared up into the furious gaze of a girl with brown eyes and long honey-blond hair as she threw her leg over his torso, forcing her all her weight on top of him. She was fully dressed in leather trousers and woolen cape.
“No,” he agreed. “Definitely not Amia.”
A flash of crimson made him think that she’d already drawn blood, but then he realized the sharp dagger she clutched had a crimson-colored hilt. “Would you like to guess who I am?” she asked.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Fair enough.” He swallowed hard, feeling the sharp edge of the blade far too acutely for him to dismiss this as a dream, and summoned his wits about him—as many as could be gathered at such short notice. “I will guess that you are a beautiful but deadly assassin, paid to kill me.”
“Wrong. Nobody paid me.”
“So . . . an unpaid assassin then.”
“Not by trade.”
“How many have you killed?”
“Men? Four. Princes with their snobbish royal heads stuck up their arses? None. At least not until today.” Her eyes narrowed. “Guess again who I am.”
He searched her face, trying not to give in to any glimmer of fear. In his seventeen years, he’d never had his life threatened before. Well, not quite so blatantly, anyway. He had enemies, of course. Many who called themselves friends whose smiles and friendly expressions fell away, he knew, when his back was turned.
He was the son of the King of Blood, heir to the throne of Limeros. All were required by law to be courteous and cordial to him—all except the king himself, of course.
“Oh, yes . . .” he began. “I remember now. It was a banquet, say, three months ago. You are the daughter of Lord and Lady Modias, the one who requested the honor of my company while I was busy speaking with Lord Lenardo—”
“No,” she snapped. “I’m not some random girl from a party. Give it a little more thought, you pompous arse, and I’m sure you can figure it out. One more chance.”
This time he focused harder. On the golden color of her hair . . . Yes, it now seemed more familiar. On her eyes. On the curve of her jaw, the freckles on her nose and cheeks.
Magnus imagined her younger, standing in a snowstorm and growing smaller in the distance as she ran away from him.
“Kara,” he whispered. “Kara Stolo.”
“Aha.” She gave him the cold edge of a smile. “There it is. I knew you couldn’t have forgotten the girl whose life you destroyed.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” he said, his voice harsh. Even to him, it sounded like a lie.
“Yes it most definitely was your fault,” she hissed, leaning closer and digging the dagger deeper into his flesh. “And tonight you’re going to pay the price for what you did.”
? ? ?
Ten Years Ago
Magnus had made a very important decision: he was running away from home.
“And you’re coming with me,” he told his little sister, Lucia, as they lay on the floor of their playchamber.
“Where are we going?” she asked, looking up from one of the few storybooks their father allowed them. It told the story of the radiant goddess Valoria in a way that allowed children to better understand her laws and rules and greatness. Lucia particularly liked the drawings of the goddess performing miracles with her water and earth magic, such as creating a waterfall out of dry rock so her humble subjects could ease their thirst.
Magnus had looked at the pictures, but at seven years old he didn’t share the interest in reading that his smart and eager five-year-old sister had.
“South,” he told her. “To Auranos.”
She cocked her head, her raven-black curls bouncing. “But we were just there! And you got hurt! Why would you want to go back?”
He touched the bandage on his right cheek that covered the wound, one that surely would leave a horrible scar. He knew he couldn’t tell his sister about the injury, not more than she already knew. She would be devastated to know that it was their father who’d done it, a cruel reaction to Magnus’s foolish attempt to steal a shiny, jeweled dagger.