Home > No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)(8)

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)(8)
Author: Miranda Honfleur

At any moment, he could lunge at her, pin her to the ground, sink his fangs into her flesh and tear it open. Drive his clawed hands through her body. Rip her apart. He could do all that and seem completely natural.

“It is my hope that, in time, you will find us familiar despite our differences.”

Familiar? Maybe. Any less terrifying? Likely not. But she nodded again.

“Would you care for a walk around the courtyard? I will answer all your questions to the best of my ability. Perhaps we might become better acquainted before the ceremony tomorrow.”

She turned to Gabriella and pointed to her own mouth.

Gabriella’s hazel eyes flickered between her and the prince. “Princess Alessandra wishes me to tell you that she has sworn the Vow of Silence and cannot speak to you before the wedding, Your Highness.”

Aless faced him once more. Or rather, his scowl.

“A vow of silence?” His face tight, he clasped his hands behind his back, and his companion narrowed her smoldering yellow eyes. Like glowing embers. “Your people expect such things from their women?”

Did Papà neglect to mention that he hadn’t agreed to the marriage until she’d offered the Vow?

She nodded.

His hiss punctuated the quiet, and his companion hissed, too. Their eyes turned hard, fierce, like those of lions ready to pounce. He’d hidden his hands—his claws—and who knew what they would do?

Shivering, she took a step back. But if he disliked the Vow of Silence, then he wasn’t as bad as Papà. Maybe even reasonable.

He looked her over and relaxed his posture, revealed his hands from behind his back and let them fall to his sides.

Her gaze fixed on them, on their sharp claws, until he inclined his head.

“There are preparations before the ceremony tomorrow,” he said, his voice wooden. “I take my leave, Your Highness. Good day to you.”

She matched his gesture, and with that, the Royal Guard escorted him and his companion toward the palazzo.

Still as stone, she stood, watching until they disappeared inside and the doors closed.

“My lady?” Gabriella rested gentle fingers on her forearm.

Another shiver wove through her. Her heart pounded, so hard and so fast that surely Gabriella heard.

“Come, my lady. Let’s get you inside.” Gabriella took her arm and led her in the opposite direction, toward another entrance into the palazzo.

She walked alongside her lady-in-waiting, but the surroundings were a blur. Those eerie eyes. Sharp claws. Pointed fangs. Slate skin. Steely velvet voice. Ghostly hair. The way he hissed, the lithe way he moved—

Trembling, she shook her head, shook out her hands. There was no choice. Unless she married him tomorrow, Papà would not keep his end of the agreement either. She had to, or else Bianca would.

Finally, Gabriella helped her into a suede armchair next to a large, mysterious box, and within moments, Bianca sprang away from where she’d been looking out the window, with a swath of sapphire brocade skirts trailing as she ran and laid her head in Aless’s lap.

“I’m so sorry!” Bianca cried, taking her hand.

Aless stroked her hair softly and dismissed Gabriella with a wave of her hand.

“You’re really going through with it?” Bianca’s voice broke.

She had to. Kind-hearted, daydreaming Bianca could never handle a marriage to a dark-elf, but she could, for her sister’s sake.

“Come on, Aless,” Bianca urged, nudging her. “Never mind the Vow. Speak to me. Please.”

After Bianca’s wedding, they’d be parted; Bianca would go to Roccalano, and she would go to Nightbloom. The idea of spending most of their remaining time in silence was… painful.

She sighed. Well, she had only promised Papà she wouldn’t speak to her… fiancé. “I… will go through with the wedding.”

Bianca raised her head, frowned, and sat back on her haunches. “What do you mean? Is there another way?”

There might be. She’d go through with the wedding in Bellanzole as promised, because it was required for Bianca’s sake. For her sister, she would marry him. For three days, she would endure—whatever she would have to endure—and then she would witness Bianca’s wedding to her beloved Luciano. Bianca and Luciano were both human, and once they consummated their human marriage, their bond would be unbreakable. But after that?

She would do more good for peace bridging the cultural divide and teaching than being kept as some trophy in a cave. Even if Veron didn’t approve of the Vow of Silence, she could never be one of the dark-elf women, those who truly held power in Nightbloom. She’d just be… a token.

“After this wedding, there’s still the second ceremony in Nightbloom before this agreement is sealed. I’m going to use the time in between to try to convince him we don’t need to be married for there to be peace between our nations. I’m sure he doesn’t want to marry a human any more than I want to marry a dark-elf.”

Meeting the prince today… Yes, he’d been intimidating, but he’d also been well spoken, polite—considerate, even. “Maybe he’ll listen.”

In fact, she had the perfect wedding gift for him: her new copy of A Modern History of Silen. She still had Mamma’s copy, and the parallel gift would have meaning. It would show her willingness to share this new world with him and his people, and to welcome them as a part of it as he filled the remaining pages with the peace she hoped their people would forge together.

With him on her side, they might convince Papà and the Queen of Nightbloom to reconsider. She and Veron could still act as ambassadors of peace, as friends, demonstrating that relations between their people could be good. Maybe she could suggest the library as a joint venture, earning goodwill for the dark-elves from the paesani.

Bianca sniffed, blinking away tears. She swabbed her face with the sleeve of her sapphire frock. “And if he doesn’t listen?”

After their wedding here, Papà had said they were set to go on a Royal Progress throughout Silen to Nightbloom to present their harmonious union and inspire peace among the paesani, the nobiltà, and the dark-elves. There would be plenty of time to develop a contingency plan.

She shrugged. “I’ll find a way.”

Bianca looked away, her eyebrows drawn, and bit her lip. “Luciano told me that Tarquin is an influential member of the Brotherhood, hoping to find justice for Arabella. With their help, and the Belmonte Company, your freedom can be assured.”

The Brotherhood? Tarquin was involved with that hateful group? What he had said about the Immortali… A corruption that must be eradicated from the kingdom.

No, he wasn’t like her at all. He was one of them. The Brotherhood.

Shortly after the Rift, the Brotherhood had come together to “advance human interests.” Somehow “advancing human interests” always seemed to involve violence against the Immortali. For every perceived injury to humans, the Brotherhood retaliated twofold. Thankfully the Immortali seemed less prone to such violence, as no such faction had emerged on their side—that she knew of. “But Luciano isn’t a member?”

Bianca shook her head.

“Good. Anyone involved with the Brotherhood has sunk too deeply into hatred.” As much as she didn’t want to go through with this marriage, she didn’t bear the prince, or the other dark-elves, any ill will. There was no way she’d work with the Brotherhood. Ever.

“But they’d liberate you in a heartbeat—”

“No.” She took Bianca’s hand. “I appreciate your care, but I’ll think of something.” She smiled. “Don’t worry about me. Let your only concern be your wedding, your honeymoon, your happiness.”

“How can I think about that?” Bianca’s smooth brow creased.

“That’s why I’ve done all this. So you must be happy. Promise me.” With any luck, she and the dark-elf prince would achieve peace through alternate means, both be free of each other and this arrangement, and Bianca would get to stay with the man she loved.

Bianca’s lovely agate eyes hardened, and she gave a determined nod. “I promise.” Her gaze lowered. “But what about your library? Maybe Papà will still help?”

There had been no hope of that earlier either; she knew that now.

But she wouldn’t give up. She’d never give up. Books had been Mamma’s life and had changed her own, given her companionship and escape when the Sileni court and even Papà himself had been ruthless in their treatment of her, of a useless pawn. Books had power, the power to defeat hopelessness with escape, ignorance with enlightenment, fear with knowledge. And she wanted every person to have access to that power, to harness it, for peace, understanding, and better lives.

And they would have it, just as Mamma had wished before she’d died.

Maybe a Terran shrine would take her in. A High Priest or Silen’s Paladin Grand Cordon himself—Sir Massimo de’ Nunzio—could hear her out about wanting to build a library, to care for their paesani. The Order of Terra was known in Silen for its dedication to charity and peace; Nunzio would hear her out. He would. And the Order, so instrumental in forging peace, would no doubt be open to letting the dark-elves take part in the venture.

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