Date Published: 4/15/2023
Ricardo Montero is a painter of great repute, favored by the king of Salandra and chosen by him to paint the ceiling of a temple dedicated to a sea goddess. When he mysteriously goes missing, his friend Beatriz enters a competition to paint the temple in his stead. But when the sea goddess herself gets involved in Beatriz's painting, and in her life, Beatriz finds herself in over her head. Hopefully the woman she's falling in love with can help keep her afloat.
Meanwhile, Ricardo has been kidnapped by one of the king's enemies, a woman who claims the kidnapping is purely to spite the king but who seems obsessed with Ricardo himself. Under pressure and learning secrets he never wanted to know, Ricardo fights to maintain his loyalty to the king and control over his feelings and his life.
He’d blacked out in a stable the stranger had led him to, as near as he could remember. The night was all a bit of a blur. The next thing he knew, he was waking up to the jolting rhythm of wagon wheels, unkind to a pounding headache. Where… what…
And something scratched at his wrists and ankles when he moved, trying to stretch out. He groaned, trying to find a comfortable position. The only bright side was a dark side—there was a blanket over his body, including his head, and from what he could tell it was blocking out a lot of sunlight which would not have been kind to his hangover.
“Juan?” he muttered.
No one responded.
Still dizzy and not entirely sober, he’d fallen back into a light sleep, waking now and then at being jostled against other items in the cart. There was a chest of some sort, that was the biggest thing, but also a couple of smaller boxes, and a length of rope. Half-asleep, he felt the oddest thing about his situation to be a lack of hay. When he was young, he used to sneak into hay wagons and hide under the stacks. You could catch a ride that way, at least until the farmer caught you. He felt that he was hiding from someone now but couldn’t remember who or why. And there wasn’t any hay, no hay at all.
It was only after a good long while—maybe half an hour or maybe a couple hours even, hard to tell half asleep—after a thousand bumps in the road and a few muffled overheard conversations and a whole lot of confused pondering about the lack of hay—that Ricardo realized the source of discomfort on his wrists and ankles was rope. He’d been bound hand and foot, and he was in a strange cart with no memory of how he got there. This realization demanded some action.
“Hello,” he called out. “Excuse me. Who’s out there? What are you doing? What-what is this?” He kicked at the bottom of the cart too, though he doubted that would be heard over the rattling of the wagon. His voice was a bit raspy too, as his throat was almost as sore as his head, and he wondered if that would be heard either. After a couple minutes, however, the wagon slowed to a stop, and the blanket was lifted off his head, exposing his eyes to sunlight. He winced, groaned, and then slowly processed the face he was seeing, the face of the stranger who’d been drinking with him at the bar last night. What had been the man’s name… It had started with a D. Oh, right, Diego.
“Diego,” he said, “What the hell is this? Get me out of these ropes and this damn wagon. Gods, what time is it?”
“Almost noon,” the man said. “And I’d prefer you call me Captain Alban. Not that I didn’t enjoy drinking with you, but I wouldn’t say we’re on first-name terms, Montero.”
“I really don’t care,” Ricardo said. “Fine, Captain. Am I under arrest, then? This is a fine way to go about it. If the king hears…”
“You’re not under arrest. I’m kidnapping you,” Captain Alban said far too calmly. “As for the king, I don’t really care what he’d have to say about it. I’m part of the guard of the countess of Suelta. As you mentioned last night, we don’t get along well with the king.”
About the Author
Melody Wiklund is a writer of fantasy and occasionally romance, including the YA novel Eleven Dancing Sisters, published in 2017. In her free time, she loves knitting and watching Chinese dramas. Sometimes she draws, more rarely paints. She is a big fan of baroque art, particularly that of Diego Velasquez.
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