Capri waited until 9:00am to enter Marianne’s room. She knocked out of courtesy and let herself in. The protégé-to-friends dynamic had worked for her and Briony, but that would never be her and Marianne. Marianne required a firmer hand, and she was happy to give it.
The blond was awake. The sound of retching greeted her, and she struggled to ward off sympathetic feelings again. She had to remember the woman was a monster. Though she was far from jealous of the king’s attention, she found herself wondering what Ekon could possibly see in the pale, sickly shell of a woman.
But she knew what it was. It was the same thing he’d seen in her, the same reason he’d come to her the night she turned seventeen, despite his own resolve. He liked the idea of what Capri might have been. He liked the idea of what Marianne had been.
And he’d fuck with their bodies as easily as he did their minds as long as he left satisfied.
Capri held her nose and approached the bed. Marianne looked worse than she had the previous day. The blond groaned, barely able to keep her eyes open. Her lips were dry. Capri pinched the skin on the back of her hand, and it took a while for it to sink back down into the rest of her pale flesh.
She needed care beyond what Capri could provide. She turned to use the phone and call the infirmary.
“Infirmary,” came a clipped female voice.
“This is Lady Capri. My lady, Marianne, is very dehydrated and needs to be taken down. She can’t walk on her own.”
“We’ll send a team.”
Capri hung up and turned to find Marianne’s narrowed gaze on her, but it was hard to find the other woman threatening when her head lolled against the side of a floral basin.
“I won’t go,” she croaked.
Capri ignored her and put a cup of water to her lips. She sipped, but it came back almost immediately. Again, Capri had to remind herself that Marianne was not to be pitied, even as tears streamed down the other woman’s gaunt cheeks, further depleting her resources.
“You have to go,” she said.
“I do not. People will see. People will know.”
“There are already rumors. Some people think you’re dead. I don’t know why you’re so scared. If you don’t accept some kind of help, you really will be, and you can attend the memorial service as a corpse.”
The woman’s nostrils flared slightly, but it was the only sign of annoyance she could muster. Capri touched her damp forehead. She wasn’t feverish. Capri wasn’t an expert, but she was well-read, and she just couldn’t imagine what the condition might be.
A possibility came to her suddenly, and she frowned—maybe she hadn’t been the first to consider poisoning Marianne.
The door opened then, breaking into her thoughts, and two medics entered. Capri recognized one as John, the young medic who had been assigned to her when she’d returned to Mars. He avoided her gaze, his cheeks pink.
They did a cursory exam, which prompted Marianne to wake up and vomit.
“I won’t go,” she protested again.
The medics glanced at one another and tried to coax her, but she wouldn’t budge. Neither of them seemed keen on taking the king’s favorite by force. A weak woman of her status, thrashing and vomiting her way to the infirmary, was a scene neither wanted to be a part of.
The female medic suddenly rounded on Capri. “Can’t you do something?”
Capri shrugged. “Do you really think I hold any sway?”
They finally left an exhausted but triumphant Marianne and went to the sitting area to confer. In the end, they called down to the infirmary and brought the equipment to her.
Soon, she was hooked up to I.V. fluids and an anti-nausea drip.
Once the pain was gone, Marianne slept. Capri ordered soup and crackers for when she woke and tidied the room. Then she paused to watch the bitch sleep. She could have killed her instead of calling the medics. She could kill her now—air bubble in the I.V. line, poison in the soup.
Why didn’t she do it?
Tears pricked her eyes, and she left. She needed some time to think, to grieve. The scales of justice would remain unbalanced and in Marianne’s favor unless she did something about it. She’d proven twice now that she wouldn’t.
There was still no word from Colin. Maybe she should change her focus to escape. It would be something, a victory, and she needed that desperately. Maybe it would jar Ekon’s confidence. Inspire change.
Maybe he would finally realize that pretty girls weren’t playthings.
But even as she considered it, she knew she couldn’t leave Brody, not while he was four floors below her, encased in concrete, awaiting his death. Even if she couldn’t save him, she wouldn’t leave him alone. Even if he never knew he wasn’t.
Capri wasn’t sure where she was going, but she knew she needed to walk; she needed to do something. She found herself at the staircase, and she stepped down to the next floor, passing a guard as she went. Again, he barely paid her any notice. Capri kept an eye out for any indication there were cameras and found none.
They probably existed, invisible to the naked eye, and all evidence indicated they hadn’t existed before the shooting. She understood Ekon’s increased paranoia and security measures, but as always he was only thinking of himself. The cameras made her feel more trapped, even less like she belonged to herself. Had the other ladies realized they were there yet?
She came to a stop in front of her old apartment. She’d never had a guard outside unless she was entertaining a Victor. Marianne had the best room, on the uppermost floor save for the king’s penthouse suite, and required—or at least believed she required—additional security.
But there was a guard outside of her old room now. Who exactly was the new occupant?
Capri gave the guard a sideways look, but he didn’t stop her from knocking on Briony’s door. It took a few moments for the blond to respond. Capri thought she must be attending her new lady.
At last, her friend’s head popped through the door, and Capri greeted her with a relieved smile. “Hello,” she said.
“Capri!” she said. “It’s good to see you. What do you need?”
Her speech was too quick, too impersonal. Something was wrong. Capri’s smile wavered. “I was hoping we could talk. I could use a friend.”
“I’m sorry, Capri, but my lady needs me today. Where is yours?”
It was her turn to glance around Capri, as if expecting Marianne to suddenly appear. Maybe that was why she was acting so strange. Maybe she just didn’t want to be near Marianne.
“She’s sleeping.” She was sure Briony would want to hear the details of Marianne’s condition, share attendant gossip, and she was the only one Capri would confide in. She pictured the two of them chatting for an hour over tea, but Briony’s expression remained polite, and the door remained partially closed.
“Who is your new lady?” Capri asked.
Capri brightened. “Really? We should have lunch together. I can come back later. We’ll go down to the dining hall.”
“We’re dining in the room today.”
“Of course you are,” Capri said with an edge to her voice. “Sorry to bother you.”
She turned on her heel and stormed away before Briony could see the tears in her eyes. She thought she heard a regretful “Capri…” behind her, but she didn’t stop.
What had happened in the last two days? They’d sorted out their differences over the meeting with Ekon. Was someone spreading rumors about her? Rumors Briony would believe? She couldn’t imagine it.
Was it just that, after her new appointment and perhaps an examination of their friendship, she’d decided Gina deserved her full dedication? That what they’d shared for four years wasn’t worth keeping?
A wave of self-doubt crashed into Capri, and she felt queasy. What if the events of the last few weeks were just catching up with her, and she was growing paranoid?
She was sure of nothing now. Her future, her sanity, her friendships—her heart. She’d managed to keep Brody at the back of her mind, but the idea of losing Briony seemed to bring all her pain forward, and she ducked quickly into the stairwell before her tears could fall. She planted her back against a cool wall, staying in the shadows beneath the stairs while she tried and failed to hold herself together.
Her self-assurance was all she had left, and she was dangerously close to losing it. She took a deep, gasping breath and wiped at the tears with a long sleeve of her dress. Losing friends would only make it easier to leave. That was her future. That was her goal. She should be grateful.
She had to stay focused. She had to trust herself.
She moved to leave her hiding place just as the door opened. A strong hand shot out, grabbed her arm, and pulled her back into the shadows. In the dim lighting, all she could see was a guard’s uniform and blond hair. Fresh terror assaulted her, and she struggled.
“Lady Capri!” The gruff, urgent—but distinctly female—voice reminded her that Sullivan was dead. The guard’s eyes were almond-shaped and long-lashed, but the skin was sun-roughened, the hair cropped short, the lips thin.
Capri recognized her as the guard that had replaced Sullivan, and she waited, one foot pointed towards the door but curiosity holding her fast. Tamara relaxed her hold once she felt confident that Capri wouldn’t take off running.
“I have something for you. From Shots.”
Capri’s heartbeat quickened. “What is it?”
“Some piece of junk, if you ask me. A friend of his said it would mean something to you. I worked with him for a while, and…I liked him. Least I could do for the poor bastard.”
She slipped something solid and metal into Capri’s hand, and she closed her slender fingers around it. She didn’t look at it immediately and grasped Tamara’s arm to keep her from leaving, fear and panic rising. It was a last token. Did that mean…?
“Is he dead?” she asked breathlessly.
Tamara shook her head, glancing over her shoulder. “Not yet.”
Then she was gone. Capri forced herself to take a deep breath and opened her hand. But instead of finding something to remind her of Brody, she found the latch to the cockpit door of Gypsy Lass. She furrowed her brow. It had to be from Leroy.
Her confusion gave way to excitement. They were here. They had a plan. She held the rectangular object tightly in her hand, anxious to take it back to her room and examine it for clues.
She hesitated on the first stair and glanced around again, paranoia creeping in again. She hadn’t passed Tamara on her way to Briony’s room. How had she known where to find her? If there were cameras, someone should have seen the exchange between them and come to investigate.
The small hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and she shivered. She wasn’t paranoid. Something strange was going on in the palace. Something new. All she had was instinct, and all her instinct could tell her—for now—was that she needed to be careful.