Home > A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(6)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(6)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Lilith smiles.

I step forward and grab her wrist. “You will stop this.”

Her eyebrows go up and she looks delighted. “Prince Rhen! Such spirit. One would think you have some concern for your subjects.”

“You leave me with one man to command, and I will not have him harmed. If you must play, play with me.”

“Very well.” She swipes her free hand across the front of my abdomen.

I don’t feel her nails. I don’t feel anything.

And then I feel the pain, as if she sliced into me with pure fire.

Spots fill my vision, and my knees hit the dirt floor. I’m distantly aware of Grey trying to catch me. I clutch an arm to my stomach, but this injury is infused by magic and nothing I do will stop it. Fire burns through my veins now. The rafters spin overhead.

I wish for darkness to overtake me. I wish for oblivion. I wish to die.

I kneel, barely held upright by Grey’s grip on my shoulder, molten lava surging through my veins.

Draw your sword, Commander, I want to say to him. End it.

It would not work. I’d wake back in that cursed room, waiting for Grey to return with a new girl.

Lilith speaks from above me. “Are you truly so tired, my dear prince? Do you wish for me to end your torment?”

“Yes, my lady.” My voice is barely a whisper. The words are a plea. A prayer. Even if the end to my torment means the end of me, it would mean an end to the suffering my people have endured. It would mean freedom for Grey.

“I am generous, Prince Rhen. I will have mercy on you. This shall be your final season. Your days will march in tandem with the rest of Emberfall. Once this season expires, Ironrose will return to its former state.”

Relief begins to bloom in my chest, a small trickle of ease among the relentless pain. My final season at last. I will endure these three months and be free. I want to jerk free of Grey’s hold so I can kiss her feet and weep with gratitude.

“What will happen,” Lilith asks then, “when you fail with this girl and you are condemned to spend eternity as a monster?”

The question nearly stops my heart in my chest.

“I did not leave you with one man to command,” she says, and her voice has turned into the sound of a thousand knives scraping together. “I did not plunge Emberfall into poverty and terror. I will not be the one to destroy all your people.”

A sound chokes out of my throat. I want to weep for an entirely new reason. The burning pain has reached my head, and my eyes begin to cloud with stars.

“You are responsible,” she says, her terrible voice fading away. “You, Rhen. You alone will destroy them all.”



I’m plotting an escape.

It’s not going well.

This bedroom is stunning and as opulent as the rest of the castle, but it might as well be a steel cell. There’s nothing here that I can use to pick a lock—as if I had any idea how. Still, I’m pretty sure “find pointy metal things” would be step one, and I’ve already failed at that. There aren’t any hairpins in the dressing table, but if I want to do a makeover, there are plenty of cosmetics, ribbons, and jars full of scented lotions.

Maybe later.

The four-poster bed is massive, layered with heavy down blankets and satin sheets. Everything is pink and white, with tiny flowers stitched everywhere, small jewels forming petals along the edge of the coverlet. I’ve crawled along the baseboards, but no electrical outlets hide anywhere. Light shines through the windows, but oil lamp sconces line the walls, too. The washroom has running water—thank god—that requires a pulley. A full, steaming bathtub looks as if it were just drawn—though the steam has been rising for over an hour now, so it’s either part of this “curse,” or there’s a heater somewhere.

For a different girl, the best part of this bedroom would be the closet. It’s large enough to be a bedroom on its own, with hundreds of dresses stretching from wall to wall. Silk, taffeta, and lace crowd for space, fabrics in every color of the rainbow. At the back of the closet, beneath a small window, sits a dresser with five drawers. I hoped maybe I’d find hairpins or even a spare set of keys there, but no.

I find lots of jewelry.

Diamonds and sapphires and emeralds sparkle in the sunlight, each piece nestled on a little satin pillow that reminds me of a high-end jewelry store. Earrings. Bracelets. Necklaces. Rings. Every style, from large and gaudy to simple and delicate. This stuff looks real … and expensive.

I think of Mom pawning her engagement ring to keep Dad out of trouble and anger swells to fill my chest.

Rhen has nothing to do with her illness, with Dad’s poor choices, with the “business partners,” but this room feels like a smack in the face anyway.

I have to swallow the anger before it steals my ability to think.

Move on, Harper.

In the second drawer, I find three circlets, each adorned with more jewels. Tiaras. Because of course.

I sigh and open the third. Clothes, though these are more practical than the racks and racks of dresses. Doeskin-lined riding pants, heavy cable-knit sweaters, thin, light undershirts.

I consider my worn jeans and threadbare sweatshirt. If I want to get out of here on horseback, I’ll need better clothes.

I pull a pair of riding pants from the drawer, then an undershirt and a light sweater in dark green. The sweater has leather laces along the sides and at the ends of the sleeves, and I pull them snug.

The fourth drawer has long, thick woolen socks. I pull them onto my feet, lace up the borrowed boots, and re-buckle the dagger around my waist.

The dagger. It’s another puzzle piece that just won’t fit. If they meant me harm, why would they let me hold on to a dagger?

If they don’t mean me harm, why would they lock me in this room?

I don’t understand. Either way, I need to get out of here.

Except the only way to really do that is through the window. There’s a stunning view of the stables and the sunlit forest—and a clear view of the ground, two stories below. Unless I want to tie dresses together to make a rope, just so I can pretend my body could handle such a thing, I’m not going anywhere.

I’ve been avoiding the food all morning, but the scent of warm biscuits and honey has swelled to fill the room. I haven’t eaten since last night, but fear of drugged food is stopping me. I lie on the bed, boots and all, and think.

All I can think about is food.

Eventually, I take a tentative bite.

The biscuit flakes in my mouth. The honey is warm and gentle on my tongue. The cheese all but melts. It’s literally the best food I’ve ever tasted.

Nothing happens, so I eat my fill.

My earlier panic has faded, leaving cold determination in its wake. Once I can get out of this room, I can get away from these men.

I fish Jake’s phone out of my pocket. I’ve checked the signal a dozen times, and it’s been consistent: nothing works.

According to the screen, it’s almost noon. Rhen said he’d return at midday.

My muscles are stiff and tight, so I won’t be able to run fast, but I might be able to take him by surprise. I move a chair near the door and drop myself into it.

This solitude leaves me with nothing to do but worry. If Jake got out of the job safely, by now he’ll definitely know something is wrong.

If he didn’t get out safely …

“Oh, Jake,” I whisper at the screen. “I wish I could see you.”

The phone responds by doing absolutely nothing.

There’s one way I can see him, I guess. I click on the photo app. He’s not exactly a selfie guy—I don’t even think he has a social media account—but he takes them with Mom when she asks.

I want you to remember me, she always says. There’s no way to refuse that.

Sure enough, the most recent picture is of Jake and our mother. She doesn’t get out of bed much anymore, so he’s lying next to her, giving her a goofy kiss on the cheek. His dark curly hair is too long, twisting into his eyes, and she’s got a frail hand on his chin. Her eyes are shifted to look up at the camera, her own dark hair limp and thin on the pillow.

I wish I knew. I wish I knew they were okay. I swallow hard past the lump in my throat and quickly swipe to the next one. Another picture with Mom. And another. Then a picture of me and Mom, my arms around her, snuggled against her shoulder. We’re watching television, a pinkish glow splashed across our faces. I don’t even remember Jake taking this picture.

Swipe. Me and Jake making faces at the camera. I was trying to cheer him up after a job.

Swipe. Jake giving the camera the finger. Classy, big brother.

Swipe. Jake snuggling his face into the neck of another guy, his eyes closed, his lips parted just enough for me to know this is more than a friendly peck.

My fingers freeze on the screen. The other guy is African American, with dark brown skin and close-cropped hair. His smile at the camera is lazy. Blissful. He has kind eyes. From the angle, I can tell he’s the one taking the selfie.

I’ve never seen him before.

Slowly, I slide the screen to the next photo.

They’re together again, in the same clothes. Jake has a baseball cap on backward, an arm around the guy’s neck.

He looks happy. I can’t remember the last time I saw my brother look happy.

I tap the photo so I can see the date it was taken.

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