To save his kingdom from war, Raven married Prince Nicholas—as a princess. But on their wedding night, instead of his secret being revealed, Nicholas refuses to have any intimate contact with his new bride, and even goes out of his way to maintain distance between them.
To make matters worse, the queen makes increasing demands for an heir. When Raven overhears Prince Nicholas ask his best friend, Lord Henry to father the child, he panics. He turns to the only person he can trust—his chambermaid, Emilia. With her help, he soon learns that the Prince has a secret of his own...
Raven tore at the laced edge of his handkerchief. His hands were sweaty and his mouth dry. The lump in his throat refused to go down, no matter how many times he swallowed. His eyes darted from face to face. Even if he tried to run, he had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help. He was alone in a foreign kingdom.
His fingertips brushed against the brand-new ring on his finger. The metal burned his skin. The heat permeated deeper, into his soul. The weight of the lie he had lived with for the past seven years seemed unbearable. Raven should have put an end to this farce before it got this far, but pressured by his parents, he hadn’t backed out.
He cast a quick glance to the left at prince Nicholas―his newlywed husband. Nicholas’s blond hair glowed in the torchlight, giving him a near divine aura. Raven ached to believe that his heart would match his appearance, but the frown he saw didn’t leave him with much hope.
The wedding itself had been a blur. He had gone through all the steps and answers the way he had been taught, like a puppet controlled from the shadows. His mind had been preoccupied with the coming night and how it could be his last. Blood drained from his face at the thought of what awaited him in the not-so-distant future.
None of the guests knew what went on inside him, too busy enjoying the feast prepared in his honor. His stomach turned with the smell of food and wine. He rubbed his temples to ease nausea and dabbed at the cold sweat on his forehead with the wrinkled handkerchief.
“Are you not feeling well, M’Lady? You look rather pale.”
Raven didn’t expect the queen’s voice so close to his ear and he jumped in his seat. His breath stilled in his chest. He gasped to call the air back into his lungs, but the corset dug into his ribs making it harder to regain his senses. The room swam in front of his eyes and he grabbed onto the edge of the seat.
Then just as fast, everything settled.
“I’m tired, Your Majesty. It has been a rather exciting day,” he said. His lips twisted into an awkward smile and he resisted the urge to bite them. He opened the fan he carried to hide behind it.
The queen turned to Nicholas instead. “You should retire with Lady Raven for the night.”
Nicholas picked up his goblet and took a sip, but it did little to conceal the frown. Butterflies settled in the pit of Raven’s stomach. Nicholas was already unhappy with his presence. He tried not to think of what would happen once the truth came out.
“Son, it is time,” the queen said in a stern voice.
Nicholas pushed away from the table and stood up. He tapped the side of his goblet with a fork, catching everyone’s attention. The room fell quiet and he lifted his drink in a toast.
“Thank you all for coming to celebrate this new chapter in our lives,” he said.
Raven met Nicholas’s gaze and his heart sank. The smile on Nicholas’s face stabbed his heart like an icicle. He picked up his own goblet and poured the wine down his dry throat. The alcohol soothed the chill that seeped into his bones, but it didn’t last long, and left a bad taste in his mouth.
“However,” Nicholas continued. “It is time for my bride and I to leave. Our bed chambers await us.”
The room erupted in cheers.
Raven heard a hint of disgust in Nicholas’s voice. He took the hand Nicholas held out to him and stood up. As they left the room amongst wishes of success and prosperity, Raven noticed that Nicholas stayed as far away as their arms would allow without breaking the contact.
The walk to his chambers was the longest Raven had ever taken. His knees threatened to give out and the weakness that crept into his legs kept him from running away. Chills ran down his spine the closer they got to his room. He should say something now, before it was too late.
The candles hanging from the walls flickered as they passed, laughing at his misfortune from behind their glass prisons. If only his twin sister were still alive. It would have been a dream-come-true for her. She had talked about nothing else from the day she and Nicholas had been betrothed until the day she died.
Nicholas hadn’t said a word, but once they reached Raven’s door, he bowed and kissed the back of Raven’s hand.
“I will give you time to prepare,” Nicholas said, and turned on his heel, vanishing into the next room a moment later.
Raven’s chance to say something had passed. He chastised himself for missing the opportunity, but there was little he could do right now. He entered his waiting room, where Emilia, his chambermaid, stood with a brush in hand. She was the only other person in the palace who knew his secret. Right now, it was of little consolation.
“M’Lady, you should get ready,” Emilia said.
Raven let out a wavering sigh and followed her out of the sitting room into the bedroom. He cringed at the sight of the four-post bed and instead stopped in front of the full-length mirror to let Emilia untie the strings of his dress.
“I guess this is it,” he said, catching her eyes in the reflection.
“I’m sure it will be all right,” Emilia said, sliding the dress off his shoulders and to the floor.
Raven sat down while the maid picked up the gown. She placed it on the armchair that stood near the window, then helped him get into his night clothes. Emilia’s brown curls weren’t long enough to hide the tears in her eyes and she kept biting her lower lip. Raven feared she might cause it to bleed.
“I’ll do my best to protect you from any repercussions,” Raven said in an attempt to calm her down, though he doubted Nicholas would listen to anything he had to say. Nicholas already disliked him, and it would get worse after learning he had been tricked into marrying a man.
“Don’t worry about me, M’Lady,” Emilia said. With shaking hands, she took pearl pins out of his black hair, then brushed it.
“You’ve been a good friend,” Raven said.
“I knew how much you hated this.” Emilia smiled at him in the mirror.