Part 1

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"Glory and riches. Glory and riches." Nobelle Lane pulled her cloak tighter and hunched into her hood, watching the rain pour down as she muttered. She was cold and wet and, quite frankly, squatting in a briar patch waiting for a sign was the last thing she wanted to be doing. Her waterproof cloak wasn't river-proof, and it certainly felt as if a river was coming down on her. "Think of the end goal. Get through this, and you'll be a free woman."

Nobelle gasped as a gust of wind blew the cold rain into her face and then sputtered to get the water out of her mouth. The wall of briars in front of her was twenty feet tall and several feet deep by Nobelle's estimation. Beyond the briars was an expanse of empty, rocky ground, and in the middle rose a tower, the only break in the flat landscape until the craggy cliffs on the northern border. The tower itself appeared to have several rooms, and the windows of the topmost room glowed in the murky weather. The princess, she was sure, was toasty-warm up there. She was probably wrapped in a down-filled comforter, wearing soft, warm clothes, and sitting in front of a crackling fire. Nobelle would kill for any of those three things.

Instead, she sat at the edge of the tower lands being poked by thorns. Her ass was sore from the rocks she was perched on, and her entire body ached from the cold. She was wet, she was miserable, and she was cranky as she waited for the distraction that would signal it was time to make her entrance. This princess—and the riches and freedom she came with—had better be worth it.

"Riches and freedom," she told herself, changing her mantra. She didn't need glory; she'd be more than happy with blissful anonymity. The riches though? Those she wanted. Her life had gone downhill since the death of her parents, and she'd turned to a life of crime to survive. But when she'd accidentally killed a drunk noble who'd mistaken her for a plaything, she'd gone from street rat to wanted criminal. She didn't want to leave the capital. The life she'd built for herself, all the friends who were like family in their underground community—they were all she had. She didn't want to leave them behind. She would if she had to, but she wouldn't have to if she rescued this princess.

She pictured herself six months from now, striding down the streets of the capital, dressed to kill. People would get out of her way when she passed them—not out of fear, but out of respect. When they whispered, she'd stand tall with pride, not shy away in apprehension. She'd walk down the streets in broad daylight, not skulk in the shadows, hiding her face from anyone who could recognize her. No, there would be no hiding in her future, no taking shit from anyone. Nobelle Lane was about to get a second chance.

And it would all start with the princess sitting cozy up in that tower.


Princess Danna Wargrove was bored out of her mind. She'd caught herself talking to her reflection the day before, and not the usual assurances: "You're gorgeous. You're successful. Everything will work out for you." Instead, she had been muttering to herself, carrying on a conversation like there was someone there to reply.

She flopped down onto the bed she'd never slept in, staring up at the canopy above her head. The crocheted patterns made exactly one hundred and forty-seven triangles; she had counted and recounted them dozens of times in the past year. She also knew the number of stairs from the base to the top of her tower (ninety-six), as well as the number of stones that made up the walls in her room (three thousand, five hundred and eighty-five). There were seventy-seven tiny rosebuds embroidered on her duvet, and twenty-one on her pillow shams.

Danna groaned and pressed the silk-covered pillow over her face. How she wished she could sleep! She would give anything to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. At this point, she would even take uneasy sleep filled with nightmares. Anything was better than nothing, and nothing was what she had. A year with no sleep, and she was beginning to question her sanity and with good cause. That was her curse: to never sleep, never dream, to just exist.

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