Chapter 1

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Ruffles full of glitter and opulence spin about my legs as I move through the hall toward my destiny. The soft silk of it brushes against my fingers as I flatten out the waves. If there were a more beautiful and wealthy princess in all the Queendoms, she would be a goddess, not the ruler of a small, rich country bordering the Adriantal Sea.

"But there isn't, my lady, and there never will be," my loyal, and always perfectly dressed chambermaid, Frey, answers.

I flick my fingers at her fussing and finally step through the royal blue curtains bordering the gilt edged ballroom of my palace, my head held as high as possible and my face set in one of regal beauty.

People from all over my queendom have come to celebrate my first meeting with my betrothed—a prince from across the Rift. Dax Purgenigh. In less than five months we shall be wed and my rule shall be final. It has been lectured to me over and over by my father since I was old enough to listen. He's not in charge--my mother was Queen--but he likes to tell me what to do.

"Your majesty..." people whisper and bow as I make my way to the platform at the head of the room. Glittering lights tangle around themselves along the ceiling in a golden glow, and silver edged tassels hang from the marble columns.

In a sudden moment of panic that tightens my chest until I'm uncomfortable, I realise this isn't where I should be. It should be my mother sitting at the head of the room between my two sisters who are already seated on the dais. Not me. I was never meant to rule this queendom. Especially not at the age of seventeen. I had so many things I wanted to do. Like boss the servants around while I paint pictures of the grounds. Or maybe spend my days riding my horse through the fields near the rift.

Someone brushes my arm and I flinch away, a disgusted look thrown over my shoulder at the lady who dared touch me in such a manner. My mother would scold me for my impatience, but look where all of her kindness got her. Even now, at the very edges of twilight the stone spiral of her grave peeks through the garden windows. A memorial to a horrible night forever watching over our castle.

Gretchen, my younger sister at age twelve, stands to greet me with a hand that doesn't quite touch my skin. It's a gesture of comfort, one she knows I will ignore. With a flick of my wrist, the floating skirts of my red and gold lace ball gown fly around me and I settle upon the stone and leather seat that is the throne of Serenian.

Maureen, my older sister, who cannot sit on the throne because she is not fully related to us, nods, her black, chin-length hair curved just so around the freckled, white skin of her face.

I turn my gaze on her and the steward on her other side. The small woman jumps to attention, signaling the band to take up their tune again and the guests to continue their gossiping and scheming.

Father seems to be absent again this evening. He hates coming to the parties we throw. He's probably holed up in his study reading books about cooking and building--his favourite topics.

My gaze trails back to the heavy glass and wood door at the far end of the ballroom, waiting, always waiting.

A tap, tap, tap begins as my fingers bounce up and down on the stone armrest. Gretchen gently reaches over, again not touching me, simply hovering over my hand as if she were about to hold my fingers still. I find her soft, rounded gaze and the mass of black curls that match my own, framed around a light brown face, and raise an eyebrow. She's always got some quick line or ray of sunshine advice meant to cheer everyone up.

"Let me guess," I start before she can. "True love waits for no one?"

Her brows crinkle. "Not quite. I was going to say that patience is a virtue."

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