I looked at Rhys, barely able to make out his eyes in the moonlight, but I didn’t know if seeing him actually mattered. Using all my concentration, I told him to get in the car. A few seconds later, he got in the car and let out a massive sigh of relief.
“It feels sooo good to sit down!” Rhys said, and a fresh guilt washed over me.
Matt got in the car after him, but he didn’t close the door. He was waiting for me to get in back with him, but Finn still had my hand. He led me around the front of the car, and I got in the driver’s side. I slid over so he could drive and sat on the armrest hump in the middle.
Matt started to voice his complaints, but Finn put the car in drive. Matt swore, slamming the car door shut as Finn sped off down the road. The rest of us settled into a tense silence. I think we all had expected the Vittra to put up more of a fight, especially after the way they’d pursued me. This felt almost … too easy.
“That’s weird,” Duncan said. “They didn’t do anything. They didn’t even try to stop us.”
“We did just damage their army,” Tove said, offering some kind of an explanation. “I’m sure most of their people are recuperating or…” He trailed off, unwilling to verbalize that the Trylle had been forced to kill some of the Vittra in the attack.
Duncan made a few more comments about how strange it was and how Ondarike was different from how he’d thought it’d be. Nobody said anything in response, so eventually he stopped talking.
I got as comfortable as my seat would allow. Once I felt safe, my exhaustion really had a chance to take hold, and it no longer mattered where I was sitting.
I rested my head on Finn’s shoulder, taking a small, private glee in being close to him. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear him breathing, and that definitely helped me relax.
It may have felt good falling asleep next to Finn, but it did not feel good waking up. My body still felt sore from Kyra’s recent attack, and the uncomfortable way I’d slept had left me full of kinks and aches.
When Finn pulled up in front of the house, I stretched, and my neck screamed at me. I got out of the car, rolling my shoulders, and Matt stared up at the mansion with shock.
Opulent and gorgeous, it really was a palace, resting on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, vines covering the white exterior. It hung off the edge, held up by thin pillars, and the entire wall facing the river was made of glass. I remembered how the mansion’s elegance had hit me when I first arrived, but now I was too angry to even look at it.
I wanted to talk to Matt about everything, but I had to talk to Elora first. She had lied to me, again. If I had known that the Vittra King was my father, I never would’ve taken Rhys to see Matt. I would never have put them in danger that way.
When we went into the house, I left Rhys to help show Matt around. I hadn’t figured out how to fix him yet, so I’d settled for telling him to stand up, and leaving Finn and Tove to help him sort it out.
Finn told me I should calm down first, but I ignored him and stormed down the hall to see Elora. She didn’t scare me anymore, not in the slightest. Oren would actually hurt me. At her worst, Elora would just humiliate me.
The palace was divided into two massive wings, separated by a rotunda that served as the front hall. All of the official business took place in the south wing, where there were meeting rooms, a ballroom, a massive dining hall, offices, the throne room, as well as staff quarters and the Queen’s bedroom.
The north wing held the more casual rooms in the house, like my room, guest bedrooms, and the kitchen. Elora’s sitting parlor was at the far end of the north wing. It was a corner room, so two walls were made entirely of windows. She spent most of her free time there, painting and reading, and whatever else she did to relax.
“When were you gonna tell me that Oren is my father?” I demanded, throwing open the door.
Elora lay on her chaise lounge, her dark gown flowing out around her. Even in repose, she had an innate elegance to her. Her poise and beauty were qualities I’d been envious of when I first met her, but now I saw them as nothing more than a weak façade. Everything she did was for appearance, and I doubted that anything went deeper than that with her.
I stood just inside her parlor, my arms crossed over my chest. She held her arm over her eyes, as if the light were too painful to deal with. She was plagued by regular migraines, so that might have been the case now. Or maybe not, since she left the blinds open on the glass walls, letting the morning light stream in.
“I’m glad to see you’re safe,” she said but didn’t move her arm so she could actually see me.
“I can tell.” I walked over and stood directly in front of her. “Elora. You need to tell me the truth. You can’t keep hiding stuff from me this way, not if you want me to rule someday. I’d make a very horrible Queen if I was ignorant to everything.”
I decided to play it reasonable, instead of shouting all the things I really wanted to say.
“And now you know the truth.” She sounded tired of the conversation already, and it’d only just begun. She finally lowered her arm, wearily meeting my angry stare with her dark eyes. “Why are you looking at me that way?”
“That’s all you have to say to me?” I asked.
“What more do you want me to say?” Elora sat up in one smooth, graceful move. When I didn’t back down, she stood up, apparently not fond of the idea of me looking down on her.
“I was just kidnapped by the Vittra, the King of whom is my father, and you have nothing to say to me?” I stared at her incredulously, and she walked away, putting her back to me as she went over to the window.
“I’d feel more sympathetic to your plight if you hadn’t run away.” She folded her arms over her chest, almost hugging herself as she stared out at the river flowing below. “I specifically forbade you from leaving the compound, and we all told you it was for your own protection. After the attack, you knew firsthand the dangers of leaving, and you left. It’s not my fault you put yourself in that situation.”
“Because of the attack I thought they’d be too injured and afraid to try anything like that again!” I yelled. “I didn’t think the Vittra would have any reason to keep coming after me, but I would’ve if I had known about my father.”
“You took your life into your own hands when you left, and you knew it,” Elora said simply.
“Dammit, Elora!” I shouted. “This isn’t about placing blame, okay? I want to know why you lied. You told me my father was dead.”