The King’s Cursed Bride Bonus Chapter 1
Elisa’s clenched the note with ink-stained hands, her heart pulsing in her chest. The King’s messenger had come an hour ago, claiming the King wanted her—her, a nightwoman—to summon a renowned healer to turn Iver into a place of healing.
It was better than she’d ever dreamed.
Elisa stroked her thumb across the wording of the note, and her clammy skin smeared the ink. She bit down on a curse. Perhaps the King’s messenger had made a mistake and hadn’t meant to summon her but a different nightwoman. She was no great orator—hence the note she held in her hands.
Good day, sir. I’ve been sent by the King himself. He wishes to elevate your position by placing you as the head healer over a very important project. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Nighthouse of Iver, sir. It’s a highly disreputable place. He wishes you to turn it into a place of healing—replacing the dilapidated tower previously used…
Sweat prickled her hairline. Perhaps she shouldn’t use such big words—it made her sound presumptuous. Or maybe it was too long. Or maybe he’d say no because she was a nightwoman.
Elisa tugged the neckline higher on her dress. She’d scoured the Nighthouse for the most modest clothing she could find, but the velvet fabric and low neckline shrieked, ‘nightwoman.’ Elisa slowed at an intersection.
The messenger had said she should take a right—onto the dirt path. She turned to the right. Strange. This wasn’t one of the richer areas of the city. Since the King had specifically chosen this healer, she’d assumed he must be the personal healer to some Council member. Apparently not.
She slowed. Someone’s wagon blocked the road between two houses on the right. A window was missing from a building up ahead. The smell of cheap ale wafted on the air. There was something about this area that was familiar. Or perhaps her nerves were muddling her mind.
After a few more turns, she stopped before a house. This was it.
She rapped twice.
A horse to her left snorted, and she glanced towards him. He was beautiful—cloud white with brown spots like freckles. Freckles. She squinted. That horse did look remarkably similar—
The door swung open. “I said no. I won’t—” Eyes landed on her, the vividly deep blue of the horizon on a sunny day.
Her breath halted in her throat, and tingles swept across her face. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.
Viltus’ eyelids flared in surprised. “Elisa?”
She squeaked something that sounded vaguely like his name. Surely, he couldn’t be the one she’d been sent to summon. Obviously the King hadn’t realized that by sending her, he’d guaranteed Viltus would never assist them.
Elisa spun around and darted down the street she’d come from. She would go back and tell the King’s messenger to find someone else to speak to Viltus.
“Elisa!” His calloused hand curled around her wrist as he pulled her to a stop.
She tugged against him, but his grip was firm. There was no point in making a fool of herself, so she remained standing there, trembles wracking her frame. She fixed her gaze on the dirt road, the divots made by wheel, the prints made by shoes and bare feet.
He tugged her towards him, and a sort of numbness took over her body, the kind that allowed men to do with her body what they would and prevented her from feeling the pain and gnawing longing for something more. Well, mostly.
He tilted her chin up, and she offered no resistance. “It really is you.”
She didn’t speak. There was nothing to say.
“If you’ve come to ask lodging of me—”
She hadn’t realized she’d slapped him until a smack echoed through the narrow streets and a red imprint was left on his cheek.
He clenched his jaw. “I was going to say I’d offer it, under certain circumstances.”
“Release me.” She imagined the words surging from her mouth with the uncanny boldness Carissa seemed to possess. Instead they were as frail and quivering as dying leaves, barely clinging to their branches.
His hold didn’t loosen. “Why did you leave? Was prostituting yourself to other men really more bearable than wedding me?”
Anger unfurled her tongue. “No. If I’d selfishly chosen what I truly wanted, I’d have stayed with you and spared myself a beating.”
His blue eyes sparked. “They beat you?”
“It matters not.” Viltus didn’t gainsay her, and pain flared in her chest. Even after all this time, she still wanted him to care. She worked at prying his fingers away from her wrist.
“Did you ever think of returning to me?”
“Every reaping day.” She shouldn’t have cursed, but it seemed to be the best outlet for her pain. She sighed, giving up on freeing herself. “And having known what it was like to be touched gently… it made the nights all the worse, as I was reminded again and again that my body was no longer mine and there was none who’d ever love me.” She blinked, and in the space of that darkness, those long, painful nights came back to her. When her eyes opened again, they were embarrassingly moist.
Viltus’ eyebrows arched. She was surprised by her own vehemence as well. He drew her closer, no doubt intending to comfort her. “Elisa, I—”
His grip on her softened, and that was all she needed. She tore away from him and ran.