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“Princess, I didn’t know you’d be visiting, or I’d have straightened up the place.” Loki smirked and gestured vaguely around his room. There was hardly anything in it, so it wasn’t messy at all.

“Why are you here, Loki?” I repeated. I stood just outside the door, my arms crossed over my chest.

“I don’t think the Queen would like it much if I left.” He sat up, swinging his long legs over the edge of the bed.

“Why don’t you leave?” I asked, and he laughed.

“I can’t very well do that, now, can I?” Loki stood up and sauntered toward me.

Some rational part of me thought I should step back, but I refused to. I didn’t want him to see any weakness, so I raised my chin high, and he stopped at the doorway.

“I don’t see anything stopping you.”

“Yes, but your mother works best in ways you cannot see,” he said. “If I were to leave the room, I’d become so violently ill, I’d be unable to walk.”

“How do you know for sure?”

“Because I tried to leave.” Loki smiled. “I wasn’t going to let a thing like bodily harm stop me from escaping, but I underestimated the Queen. She’s very, very good with persuasion.”

“How does that work? She used persuasion and told you what would happen if you left the room?” I asked. “And now you can’t leave?”

“I don’t know exactly how persuasion works.” Loki turned away from me, growing bored with the conversation. “It’s never been my thing.”

“What is your thing?” I asked.

“This and that.” Loki shrugged and sat back down on the bed.

“Why did you come here?” I asked. “What were you hoping to gain?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” He grinned, that same mischievous way he always did. “I came here for you, Princess.”

“By yourself?” I arched an eyebrow. “The last time Vittra came for me here, they sent a fleet, and we still defeated them. What were you thinking, coming here on your own?”

“I thought I wouldn’t get caught.” He shrugged again, totally nonplussed by the whole thing, as if being held captive were no big deal.

“That’s completely idiotic!” I yelled at him, exasperated by his lack of concern over the situation. “You know they want to execute you?”

“So I’ve heard.” Loki sighed, staring down at the floor for a moment. Something occurred to him, though, because he quickly brightened and stood up. “I heard you’re campaigning on my behalf.” He walked over to me. “That wouldn’t be because you’d miss me too much if I were gone, would it?”

“Don’t be absurd,” I scoffed. “I don’t condone murder, even for people like you.”

“People like me, eh?” He cocked an eyebrow. “You mean devilishly handsome, debonair young men who come to sweep rebellious princesses off their feet?”

“You came to kidnap me, not sweep me off my feet,” I said, but he waved his hand at the idea.


“But I don’t understand why you’re a kidnapper,” I said. “You’re a Markis.”

“I am the closest the Vittra have to a Prince,” he admitted with a wry smile.

“Then why the hell are you here?” I asked. “The Queen would never let me go on a rescue mission.”

“She let that other Markis go after you,” Loki pointed out, referring to Tove. “The one that threw me against the wall.”

“That’s different.” I shook my head. “He’s strong, and he didn’t come alone.” I narrowed my eyes at Loki. “Did you come alone?”

“Yes, of course I did. Nobody else would be stupid enough to join me after what happened the last time we paid you a visit.”

“That really doesn’t explain why you’re here,” I said. “Why would you volunteer for this, knowing how dangerous it is? Do you know how dangerous it is? When I said they wanted to execute you, you laughed it off, but they really mean to do it, Loki.”

“I missed you too much, Princess, and I couldn’t stop myself from coming.” He tried to say it with his usual gusto, but honesty tinged his smile.

“Don’t make jokes.” I rolled my eyes.

“That was the answer you were looking for, wasn’t it? That I chose to come back for you?” Loki leaned against the doorframe, just inside the room, and sighed. “My dear Princess, you think too highly of yourself. I didn’t volunteer.”

“I didn’t think that.” I bristled and my cheeks reddened slightly. “If you didn’t volunteer, then why did they send you?”

“I let you get away.” He stared off down the hallway, where Duncan had distracted the tracker. “The King sent me to correct my error.”

“Why were you in charge of guarding me in Ondarike? Why you? Why not a tracker or something?”

“We don’t have many trackers because we don’t have changelings.” Loki looked at me. “The hobgoblins do a lot of our dirty work, but you could overpower them without even trying. The Vittra that came after you last time are only slightly more powerful than mänsklig, which is how you managed to defeat them. I’m the strongest, so the King sent me after you.”

“Who are you?” I asked, and he opened his mouth, probably to say something witty and sarcastic, so I held up my hand to stop him. “My mother said she knew your father. You’re close to the Vittra King and Queen.”