Home > These Twisted Bonds (These Hollow Vows #2)

These Twisted Bonds (These Hollow Vows #2)
Author: Lexi Ryan

 

 

Chapter One

Beyond the castle gates, the sun rises and the birds sing, but the Golden Palace is draped in a veil of night. My night. My darkness. My power.

I throw out magic with abandon, trapping those who dare to chase me. Darkness trails behind me like the train on an elaborate wedding gown. But I’m not anyone’s bride.

I won’t let them fool me with their pretty lies and manipulations. Sebastian betrayed me. They all betrayed me, but his duplicity cuts the deepest. The male who was supposed to love me, supposed to protect me, used me to steal the Unseelie crown.

Rage floods my veins and feeds my power.

I run, even when the path beneath my bare feet turns rocky and sharp. I focus on the pain, welcome the sting of the gravel cutting into my soles. It’s the only thing that blocks out this other feeling—this anguish and frustration that belongs to the one I love. The male I’m bonded to forever. The one who lied to me, who betrayed me.

I don’t want to feel him. I don’t want to know that my departure is like a fracture down the center of his heart or that losing me has brought him to his knees. I don’t want to understand that he’s been trapped by his own duty or to comprehend the depths of his regrets. But I do. Through this bond between our souls, I do.

Sebastian betrayed me for the crown, and now he has what he wanted, while I have become that which I despised for so long. A faerie. An immortal.

Reason claws at me as I run.

I’m barefoot. In a sleeping gown. I won’t make it far like this, but I refuse to let them catch me.

I double back to the paddock, and when I push inside, the stable boy’s eyes go wide, his gaze fixed on the cresting wave of darkness looming behind me, ready to strike.

He’s young, with sandy blond hair, bright blue eyes, and pointed elven ears. I’ve seen him before, when getting a horse to ride around the palace grounds. Back when I thought I was safe here, when I believed Sebastian’s love was pure.

“Give me your boots,” I say, lifting my chin.

“My . . . my . . .” he stammers, his eyes darting toward the palace and the dark destruction I left in my path.

“Your boots! Now!”

He keeps his wide, worried eyes on me as he unlaces them and tosses them at my feet.

“Now a horse,” I command, stepping into the boy’s shoes. They’re a little too big, but they’ll do. I tighten the laces and secure them around my ankles.

His gaze darts back toward the palace again, and I throw out another burst of power, making the night beyond pulse with malice. His hands shake as he guides a white mare from her stable. “Wh-what’s happening, m-m-milady?”

I ignore the question and nod to the dark belt of knives buckled at his waist. “Your baldrick too.”

He unlatches it, letting it drop to the stable floor. Moving quickly, I snatch it by the buckle and wrap it around my waist, tightening the clasp before swinging up onto the horse.

“Thank you,” I say, but the boy is cowering, as if he expects me to end him with his own knives. His fear leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Is this who I’ve become?

This is who Sebastian made me.

I can’t think about it as I nudge my horse out of the stables, righting myself on the saddle before I feel a tug at the center of my chest. A sweet ache that begs me to turn back to the palace. Back to Sebastian.

Shouts carry across the lawn. With my new fae ears, I can make out the sounds of the chaos in the castle—the scrambling, the shouting, the pounding of feet running my way.

The shouts grow closer. My magic has slipped; my darkness has loosened its grip.

I drive my heels into the sides of the horse. She takes off, galloping at full speed while I hold on as tightly as I can.

Come back. I don’t hear the words so much as feel them, feel the ache that burns my chest and settles into my bones. I need you. Come back to me.

The reminder of my connection with Sebastian makes me ride harder. I don’t know if I can escape it, if I can mute his misery and heartache with distance alone, but I plan to try.

 

“I need a room for the night,” I tell the barmaid behind the counter at a run-down inn. My voice sounds like crushed glass, and every muscle in my body screams with exhaustion.

I don’t know where I am or how far I’ve ridden. All I know is that I raced away from the palace as fast as I could. I rode hard, passing through villages and farmlands until I couldn’t keep myself in the saddle any longer.

I haven’t ridden much since I was a child, and I’ve never ridden for so many hours at once or through such mountainous terrain as I’ve encountered in the last few hours. By the time I handed my reins over to the inn’s stable hand, my legs were screaming in protest.

The female behind the bar has sharply pointed ears and pursed lips. Her cool blue eyes glitter with the kind of iciness people get from living a hard life. She looks me up and down, and I can imagine the mess she sees. My white sleeping gown is now the color of a dusty dirt road, and I’m sure my face doesn’t look much better. My jaw-length red hair is a dirty, tangled mess, and my lips are parched from thirst. “I don’t do charity,” she mutters, already turning away to serve a more promising customer.

I plop a bag of coins onto the counter. My old thieving ways are serving me well. This fae gold is courtesy of a drunken orc at a tavern an hour west from here, where I’d originally planned to stay for the night. The orc had spotted me heading to use the facilities and thought he’d catch me in there and put his hands on me. I may have been exhausted, but I wasn’t too tired to wrap him in darkness so deep he’d cried like a baby while he begged me to release him.

The barmaid opens the bag and peers inside, and her jaded eyes light up for a beat. Her lips curve in triumph before she schools her expression. “That’ll do,” she says, sliding a key across the counter. “Second floor, last door on the left. I’ll have the maid take up some wash water for you.”

I know nothing about faerie money—what it’s worth, what I can expect from one of their shining gold coins—but I’ve clearly handed over a significant amount, and she’s trying to play me for a fool. I arch a brow. “I’ll need dinner too.”

She nods quickly. “Of course.”

Too easy. “And some clothes. Pants and a shirt. No dresses.”

Those wrinkled lips twist in consideration. “I’m not in the business of selling clothes, and the tailor’s shop is closed for the night.” At my hard look, she sighs. “But . . .” She looks me over. “You could likely fit into something of mine. I’ll make it work.”

I nod my thanks and slide onto a stool, unsure whether my shaking legs can take another moment. “I’ll take my meal here.”

She tucks the bag away, then barks at a small child to get my dinner. He scampers off, his head down. When she turns her cold eyes back to me, they grow calculating. “Where are you from?” she asks.

I laugh, but I’m so tired it sounds more like a grunt. “You wouldn’t know the place.”

She arches a brow. “I know most places. Even spent some time in the shadow court during the war.”

I just shrug, figuring she wants those coins too much to insist on an answer. “Nowhere special.”

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