Bella? I would have laughed had my situation not been so dire.

“I’m to be your maid while you’re in the west wing,” she continued.

Although I wasn’t making any motion to indicate that I was going to accept her handshake, still she held out her hand expectantly.

“Where am I?” I asked, my eyes narrowing on her.

Her expression suddenly tightened. She cast her eyes downward and dropped her hand back to her side. “His Highness didn’t permit me to answer questions.”

“What is Anselm? He doesn’t look like you.”

She chewed on her fat lower lip, shaking her head apologetically.

I exhaled in frustration. “What can you tell me?”

“Not really supposed to talk other than introduce myself,” she mumbled.

I brushed past her, walking over to the bed and slumping down on the mattress. My eyes followed Bella as she crossed the room and opened a cupboard. She pulled out a light pink robe made of silk and handed it to me. Since I was still wearing the now battered bikini Caleb had made for me, I eagerly pulled it over myself.

Then Bella moved toward a door to my left that I hadn’t noticed until now. I followed her inside. It was a kitchen. There was a stove and a deep clay oven, and the walls were lined with steel pots, knives, plates and other cutlery.

“Was expecting you about now,” she said, reaching for a pan of oil on the stove and shaking it. It hissed, and gave off a strong spicy smell. She reached for a larger pot sitting on the fire behind it and lifted the lid. It was filled to the brim with a kind of colorful stew. How many people is she cooking for here? Tipping the oil into the stew and mixing it all together, she reached for a bowl and slopped some into it.

She nodded toward the bedroom. “Go and sit.”

I hesitated. I’d lived on nothing but fruit for the last few days and I was famished. But I had no idea what it was she was about to feed me. And I didn’t dare ask. I was sure the answer would make me feel queasy.

Seeing no other option, I did as Bella had requested. Since there was no other table in the room, I sat down at the dressing table. She placed the bowl in front of me and dunked a spoon in it.

Bella sat down cross-legged on the floor next to me, watching as I took my first mouthful. I was pleasantly surprised as the warm liquid glided down my throat. It was unlike anything I’d tried before, but it was tasty.

“What’s in it?” I couldn’t help but ask.

She flashed me a goofy grin, revealing a set of wide yellowing teeth. “It’s a secret… my special recipe.”

Her answer hardly made me feel more comfortable about what I was putting in my mouth, but since I wasn’t retching yet, I finished the bowl.

“You want some more?”

I shook my head. My stomach had shrunk, and one bowl was more than enough. She got up and took my bowl into the kitchen. I heard water gushing and pots clanking as she began to wash up.

Now that I had some proper nourishment in me, I found myself able to think a little clearer. I pushed my chair back and walked up to the mirror. I slipped a hand beneath my gown, running it over the torn leaves covering my chest.

Caleb.

I closed my eyes, wincing. It cut me deep to think that he’d be all alone with Annora now. I hated to think what they might be doing without me. I prayed that he was strong enough to keep resisting her and not give her a second chance.

My blood boiled as I recalled Annora’s ‘apology’ and declaration that she would leave Caleb alone. She was full of more crap than any giant bird nest could hold.

I didn’t know what horrors lay in wait for me in this ghastly realm. I didn’t know what would become of me. Or how I would ever escape.

But as I stared at myself in the mirror, the fury running through my veins left no room for fear. I felt like a ball of fire.

And I did know one thing.

Annora was going to rue the day she ever messed with a Novak.

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