King Zeller slowly lowered his coffee cup, his head cocking. Green eyes flittered back and forth in quick succession between Isa and me, taking in each part of our faces. My lips began to pinch, but I quickly adjusted the action, knowing exactly what he was going to say before he did. Slowly, he drawled, “Your adopted daughter looks much like you, Queen Ruckler.” His eyes went to her hair. “Your Vampire daughter.”
Playing it cool, eyebrows raised, I murmured, “Well then, I guess I should feel fortunate since even you’ve said she’s beautiful.” I had actually had this conversation a few times before with others who also had a keen eye, so I knew how to handle it and keep my words truth. “Thank you for the unintended compliment.”
His eyes flittered to mine, narrowing slightly. He didn’t argue the ‘beautiful’ point, which actually surprised me, but he wasn’t to be deterred, his eyes swiftly turning back to Isa. Her hair. His head cocked slightly. “I haven’t seen so few black streaks since Elder Venclaire.”
And…I froze, unprepared for that comment…because in my mind, she did have her grandfather’s hair. Elder Venclaire. Lots of bright red with tiny, sporadic streaks of black. Fortunately, King Zeller was still staring at Isa, and I was able to glance at Antonio for help.
But, the unfortunate part was, he did nothing to assist me.
Licking my lips, I stated, “Well, I guess it is like his.” It came out a smidge shaky, but I was coming up with this on the fly. Really, I should have been prepared for this. King Zeller had been trained by Elder Venclaire. He knew the Elder, so this shouldn’t have caught me so off guard. “Maybe that means she’ll be powerful like him.”
Green eyes slammed to mine. “You’ve met Elder Venclaire?”
“Yes.” My heartbeat and breathing were normal; the only sign of nervousness was the slight flush I could feel burning my cheeks. “He and the other three Kings did my Awakening when I shifted into a wolf.” My lips lifted, and I tried again to distract him. “It was a bit of an ordeal.”
His gaze flicked to my hair. “I bet it was.” And like a f**king hawk, he turned his attention back to Isa, murmuring softly, “It’s remarkable, really, the resemblance between you two.”
I blinked, coming up with shit to say, so I went with that. “I don’t know what to say…other than thank you.” I shrugged a shoulder when he stared at me. “If I’m half as pretty as her, I would be grateful.” Truth.
He stared for a long moment. Grunted. Eyes back to Isa. “Honestly, she even looks a bit like Elder Venclaire in the eyes.” His head cocked. “Not the color, but the way they tilt.” He blinked slowly, glancing back to me, and if I wasn’t mistaken, he was eyeing the shape of my eyes as he asked, “Who was the father?”
Instant and truthful. “I don’t know who the father was.” Christ, I needed to get him off this line of questioning, so I went with the only thing I could to distract him, lifting her in his direction. “I know you said you would never lay a finger on her, but would you mind holding her while I eat since you don’t appear to be too hungry?” Yeah, there we go. He appeared a bit startled, his hard face cracking. “I’m starving, and it’s difficult to eat while holding her.”
And, as I knew he would since this was a formal dinner and he had tortured me, he slowly lifted his massive arms to take her from my grip, giving me a quick glare. She whimpered quietly going into a stranger’s hands, and peered back at me, but as soon as King Zeller tucked her against his body protectively, she made a cooing sound and ducked her head under his chin. She snuggled into his warmth, keeping a watchful eye on me to make sure I wasn’t leaving entirely. I smiled at her encouragingly then glanced up at King Zeller, saying, “Thank you.”
He grunted, his grip on Isa tightening, appearing massive compared to her. “She’s tiny.”
Covertly, I sniffed, and even though I could have blatantly called him on his earlier lie, since he reeked of protectiveness while holding her, I murmured, “She’s perfect as she is.” Lifting my silverware from the table, I blinked — my eyes flittering back and forth between King Zeller and Isa. I froze again, feeling light-headed, my vision dimming, heart rate shooting into a wild gallop. If she looked like me…well, the dual pairs of spring green eyes staring back at me, the mocha skin, the arched eyebrows, Isa’s red and his black…
The knife and fork in my hands began to shake as I sucked in a harsh breath, my body visibly trembling as, unbidden, I whispered, “Impossible.”
And it was. The Law that had mind raped me not only spelled the two who had broken the Law to not remember one another, it spelled them to be separated, never to see each other again. I shook my head, ignoring the way King Zeller’s eyebrows were beginning to furrow. It couldn’t be. There was no way. He just had to look damn near identical or be a great representation of the man I had been with. Hell, of the man I had loved and who had loved me in return.
King Zeller asked, “Are you feeling all right, Queen Ruckler?” His brows pinched even more as he glanced at my hands on my plate. “Perhaps you should eat if it’s been a while.”
An odd noise left my throat, but I was feeling a bit of sanity return at knowing this had to be pure madness on my part, and I turned my attention to Antonio next to me. And all air escaped me as he held my gaze with the most utterly blank expression I had ever seen on him, which was saying something.
Instinct had my gaze darting to Elder Zeller. I choked, seeing the same expression there.
My gaze to Elder Merrick and Elder Jacobs was returned in the exact same fashion.
I was hyperventilating — yes, hyperventilating — as the knife and fork fell from my limp fingers to my plate, clattering loudly. As I sucked air harshly, the noise loud and high-pitched to my ears, my gaze swung to King Zeller. His eyes were darting everywhere mine had, to the mute and motionless Elders around us, then back to mine. For the first time ever — in what I could remember — he showed confusion as he stared, his gaze swinging back and forth between my eyes.
Quickly, watching as I grabbed at my chest, he asked, “What am I missing?”
I sucked in air again, blinking hard, then pointed a shaking finger at him, wheezing, “You said you were at King Cave?”
Instantly, his eyes hooded, guarding any expression he might show. “Yes.”