Let me tell you, I never knew nobility titles were so complicated before this and I have firmly decided I will never use titles outside of king, queen, prince, and princess again. (Just watch me do it again next year. I can already feel it). Anyway, this is a short story based on two characters from my book THE INFERNAL KING, which comes out in two weeks! Almost three hundred years before the book begins, Aurora and Adriana were lovers born in Italy in 1750 and later became demons as part of Riven’s family. This is the story of their lives. I hope you enjoy it!
Also, if you like knowing what an author is listening to while writing, ‘Coffins’ by Bohnes inspired this story. I highly recommend listening to it. Enjoy the devastation.
CW: Abuse, Blood/Injuries
“Do you think we’ll always be together?” Adriana asked as the two nine-year-olds lounged on the grassy hillside, the starry summer sky clear and bright above them.
“Of course!” Aurora said, sitting up to look at the other girl. “We’re best friends, aren’t we? Like our mamas, and they have stayed together since they were little too.”
“You’re right,” Adriana agreed with a nod and a soft smile, sitting up as well. “I wonder if you’ll marry one of my older brothers? Then we can stay together forever.”
“Ew, no way!” Aurora exclaimed, sticking her tongue out in disgust at the thought. “If I have to marry anyone, I’d rather it be you.”
“Me too,” Adriana admitted, a small shy blush rising on her cheeks.
Aurora stared at her in awe for a moment then ripped her gaze away, clearing her throat and trying to suppress her own blush. “Then it’s decided. When we’re older, we’ll marry each other so we can always be together,” she replied, laying back down.
“Always,” Adriana agreed, snuggling up to Aurora’s side as she laid down as well. They both reached out at the same time, linking their fingers together then sharing a smile.
They stayed there for a few hours longer, until the sun peeked above the horizon. Then they brushed off their gowns and raced back to the Galenus manor, ducking into their separate beds just in time for their maids to come in to wake them up, their promise rooted deep in their hopeful hearts.
Aurora stood in front of two graves, dressed in a black dress. A mourning gown, they called it. The dirt still seemed fresh, even though three weeks had already passed. One for her mother and one for her stillborn little brother, who her mother had died giving birth to. Even at ten, Aurora knew what death was. She knew her mother was never coming back. She never even had a chance to meet her brother, but her mother had loved her. That knowledge made it even more painful. She carefully laid another white calla lily she had picked from the gardens over each grave, sitting them against the headstones.
Her father refused to leave his study. She hadn’t seen him since the burial. She didn’t care to see him either. She was the only family left who cared enough to remember them, so she wouldn’t let them down. She wondered if her mother went to Heaven, like the bishop said all good people go to. Her mother was the best person in the world, so she must have.
“We should head back, Miss,” Nina whispered. She was Aurora’s beloved nurse who was like a second mother to her. A guilty feeling pricked her chest and she turned away from the woman. She felt like she was betraying her birth mother for loving her nurse so much.
“Go without me,” Aurora ordered, her voice rough with unshed tears.
“Miss—“ Nina began.
“Go!” Aurora shouted, whirling around and glaring at the older woman.
“Yes, Miss,” Nina submitted, smiling sadly as she bowed her head. Aurora hesitated, staring at her back as the woman walked away, but her throat closed up as she tried to apologize so she gave up with a shake of her head. It didn’t matter. She would leave eventually too.
She roughly wiped away the tears pooled in her eyes with the back of her sleeve. She blew a kiss at both graves then turned away to head home. The two had been buried in the cemetery behind the Catholic Church in town. When she was alone, she could walk through the woods to get there quickly. With Nina, she had to come by carriage where Nina was probably waiting for her to return.
With a heavy sigh, she left the graves and went back to the carriage, climbing in without a word. The driver snapped the reins and with a whinny, the horses headed back to the manor.
“Whoa!” the driver said suddenly as they came towards the front of the manor, stopping the horses.
“Aurora!” a voice squealed, and Aurora poked her head out the window to see Adriana running down the stairs of the entryway towards them.
“Adriana? What are you doing here?” Aurora asked as soon as she left the carriage. Three large boxes of luggage waited on the doorstep as the servants moved smaller ones into the house.
“I’m not leaving my best friend alone in her time of grief. My parents have allowed me to stay here with you!” she said, throwing herself into Aurora’s arms. Then she looked up at her sheepishly, adding, “If that’s all right with you.”
“Well, I’m glad you ask now that you are already here,” Aurora joked, making both Adriana and Nina smile.
“Your father already approved. My father wrote him a letter!” Adriana said excitedly. Aurora’s face darkened at the mention of her father and Adriana hastily added, “I came as soon as I was told. I’ve been packed for days. You can’t send me back now!”
“I mean, if I wanted to, I could,” Aurora said, making Adriana look heartbroken. Aurora chuckled, pulling Adriana into another hug. “But I won’t. Together forever, right?”
“Right!” Adriana agreed, smiling brightly. “Oh, I am so excited. We can take all our lessons together, and go shopping, and celebrate holidays, and sleep in the same bed, and watch the stars, and have picnics, and so much more all the time now! Let’s go!” she said, pulling Aurora with her into the manor.
“Adri, slow down! We don’t have to do all of it right now!” Aurora exclaimed, nearly tripping over her feet.
“No, you keep up! I’m going to distract you until you faint from exhaustion,” Adriana teased, sending a smile back at Aurora.
Aurora’s heart skipped a beat and she found herself smiling back.
They were twelve years old when they first learned about love. They were reading a romance book; one they had found hidden in the bedroom of a laundry maid.
“What is a kiss?” Adriana asked innocently, looking up from the page.
“I don’t know. Let’s go ask Lila,” Aurora suggested. Lila was her personal maid she had received in the last year, since she was getting too old to have a nurse. Lila was four years older, so she must know what kissing was.
“Lila! Lila!” the pair called, running all over the manor.
“Miss Galenus. Miss Genovesi. What may I assist you with?” Lila asked as she came out of the laundry room, a smile plastered onto her face.
“What is a kiss?” Adriana asked.
“A kiss?” Lila repeated, blinking in surprise.
“Do you not know?” Aurora questioned. “We found it in this book,” she explained, holding up the book with the woman and man embracing on the cover under the moonlight.
“Where did you get that?” she screeched, snatching it away as she blushed. It was the most emotion Aurora had ever seen the maid show. “What—why—how—?” she stuttered, her face still burning.
“We found it in Mary’s room,” Adriana piped up, smiling brightly.
“Shh! She wasn’t supposed to know that!” Aurora hissed.
“Ah. Excuse me one minute,” Lila said, gritting her teeth to maintain her smile as she turned away to head back into the laundry room. “Mary!” Lila roared, making a woman inside squeak.
“Perhaps we should ask someone else?” Aurora asked, hedging away as she heard Lila ranting inside about inappropriate books.
“Is a kiss inappropriate?” Adriana questioned as they wandered towards the garden.
“I don’t know,” Aurora shrugged.
“Oh, Mistress Aurora. Are you looking for something?” Pamela, the head housemaid, asked as she stepped out of the kitchen. Marco, her husband and the head butler of the estate, followed her.
“It was a romance we were reading. Do you think they know what a kiss is?” Aurora whispered to Adriana.
“Do you know what a kiss is?” Adriana asked the pair.
“A kiss?” Pamela questioned, looking just as surprised as Lila had been.
“Of course we do!” Marco said cheerfully then ducked Pamela and pressed his lips to hers. He pulled her back up, grinning broadly, while Pamela covered her mouth to hide her giggles as her cheeks burned red.
“Oh, you!” she said, swatting his arm.
“So that’s it? You just press your lips together?” Aurora asked, her nose scrunching in disgust.
“Well, it means a lot more when you kiss the person you love. You know, the one who makes it feel like butterflies are flying around in your stomach, or who you think about often, or who you enjoy being with more than anyone else.”
“That’s love?” Adriana asked, looking at her awed.
“Indeed, it is,” Marco agreed, smiling sweetly down at his wife before leaning down to give her another kiss.
“Thank you, Pamela, Marco!” Aurora said to the pair then grabbed Adriana’s hand, leading her to the garden. They sat on the edge of the stone fountain, staring at the ground.
“Aurora,” Adriana began, making Aurora’s head snap up to look at her. A blush had spread over Adriana’s cheeks as she picked at the beads on her dress. “Do you think that love stuff sounds familiar?” she finally asked.
“You too?” Aurora gasped, her eyes bulging in shock. Adriana nodded, looking up at Aurora and smiling softly. Just like Pamela described, butterflies fluttered in Aurora’s stomach. “I feel that way when you smile at me.”
“Or when you laugh,” Adriana agreed.
“Or when you see something exciting.”
“Or when you overcome a challenge.”
“I think I love you,” Aurora admitted, smiling bashfully.
“I think I love you too,” Adriana said, blushing darker.
“S-should we kiss now?” Aurora stuttered.
“Yes,” Adriana said, leaning forward. Aurora met her in the middle, pressing their lips together.
A spark flew between them and they ripped away from each other, both of them blushing furiously.
“That was… wow,” Adriana breathed, her eyes alight in awe as she touched her lips.
“I think I like kissing,” Aurora decided, making Adriana giggle.
“I’ve got you now!” Adriana shouted, lunging forward.
“Ha! Not quite!” Aurora laughed, parrying Adriana’s sword. She stepped to the side and struck. Adriana barely blocked the blow, locking their swords between their bodies as they tried to push each other back. “Do you admit defeat?” Aurora taunted.
“Never!” Adriana gasped and a bead of sweat ran down her hairline. A few strands of her chestnut brown hair that escaped from its high ponytail were plastered to her face. They had been practicing for hours already, and their white poet shirts tucked into their black trousers were damp with sweat and covered with dirt from tumbling around the courtyard to evade blows.
“Are you sure?” Aurora asked, a mischievous smile crossing her face as she looked down slightly at the girl.
“Are you sure you don’t want to give up? It’s alright if you do. I won’t tease you too much about it,” Adriana joked, her lips tugging up to reveal a blinding smile. Her smile dimmed when Aurora didn’t respond, only to gasp when Aurora suddenly launched forward and captured her lips in a kiss. Adriana dropped her sword in shock, and Aurora lowered hers as she used her free hand to wrap around Adriana’s head to pull her in closer. Adriana reached up to wrap her arms around Aurora’s neck, deepening the kiss.
Their chests heaved when they pulled away, trying to catch their breaths. Adriana smiled up at her, a blush highlighting her cheeks. “I win,” Aurora whispered, wiggling her sword with a victorious smirk, and Adriana ripped away from her.
“You cheated!” Adriana screamed, her blush darkening in a burst of anger.
“All is fair in love and war,” Aurora teased, making Adriana growl and step forward with her hands outstretched, like she was preparing to strangle her.
“Miss Galenus, His Lordship wishes to speak to you,” Lila interrupted them. Aurora slowly turned away from Adriana as the maid curtsied with her head lowered in respect. “Now,” Lila insisted when Aurora looked back at Adriana longingly.
“Go. I will be in the study when you finish,” Adriana encouraged, pressing a kiss to the corner of Aurora’s lips for the fourth time that day.
“If you keep kissing me like that, you’ll spoil me,” Aurora joked.
“You’re already spoiled. I doubt I can make it any worse,” Adriana replied with a grin.
“Well, it’s worth a shot,” Aurora retorted.
“Go! Before he comes to find you,” Adriana insisted with a laugh, taking her sword then pushing her away towards the side entrance.
“Please,” Lila added dryly, making Aurora snort.
“Alright, alright. I’m going,” Aurora replied, jogging into the manor towards her bedroom. She quickly rinsed the sweat off her body with a washcloth then threw on the first dress she grabbed, one she thankfully didn’t need Lila’s help with. She put her hair into a messy bun then hastened to her father’s study, knocking on the door after she had a moment to breathe and straighten out her clothes.
“Come in,” Lord Orsino announced. Aurora entered hesitantly. The room was as dark as usual, and her father sat behind his large desk with a deep frown on his face. “Sit,” he ordered without offering a greeting. “Duke D’Este, the Duke of Modena, has agreed to marry you,” her father began as soon as she sat down.
“What?” Aurora gasped, horrified. “You must be joking!”
“Joking? Aurora, I know your mother was soft on you, but it’s time for you to grow up! You are fifteen years old! With the right dowry price, you could be a duchess, and we have just enough money left to make that happen.”
“What do you mean, Father—My Lord?” she quickly corrected herself when he gave her an icy look. “What was that about the money?”
Lord Orsino sighed, looking three times his age as he leaned back in his chair. “Our family has been struggling for quite some time now. The Bergiola estate is bankrupt, and has been for the past several years. All we own to our name is this manor. We have been living off the stipend we received from your mother’s generous parents, even after Cristiana passed, but that is soon to end. Without a marriage to a proper, wealthy suitor, we will lose our status in society and we will be out on the streets. Do you understand?”
“But how could this have happened?” Aurora asked, feeling like her world was crumbling around her. Marriage? What would she tell Adriana? How would they survive this?
Her father’s expression hardened. “That doesn’t matter now. We have paid an exorbitant amount for him to consider marrying you, and I am telling you now because he has finally agreed. Tomorrow he and I will meet to negotiate the terms of the marriage. Most likely, you will need to produce two heirs — one for the duchy and one for my lordship.”
“But you cannot—!” Aurora exclaimed, glaring at him, only to break off with a startled jump when he slammed his fist down on his desk.
“I can do as I damn well please! You will listen to me! You will marry the Duke! You will save this family! That is final!” he shouted until he was red in the face. Aurora stayed silent, pale with shock, and her father sighed, shaking his head and standing up. He wandered over to the windows, looking out across the estate. “You are dismissed.”
Aurora silently stood, curtsying shakily, then ran out of the room as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Adriana!” Aurora shouted, bursting into the study closest to her room. As always, Adriana sat by the window, her nose stuck in a romance book.
“Aurora? What happened?” Adriana gasped, standing up and staring at her alarmed. Aurora collapsed to her knees and Adriana lurched forward, kneeling in front of her and clutching her hands as Aurora began to sob. “Please, tell me what is wrong.”
“I’m betrothed,” Aurora finally blurted out.
“What?” Adriana asked, pulling away. Aurora clung to her, not wanting to let her go. Who knows how much time she had left with her.
“Father has sold me to the Duke of Modena,” Aurora hissed, her rage coming back with a vengeance. How dare he? How could he do this to her?
“But how—“ Adriana started, only for Aurora to cut her off.
“We’re bankrupt! He used the rest of our money as my dowry! He sold me off to the wealthiest noble in Italy that would take me, all so we could regain our wealth and status!” she screamed. Adriana quickly pulled her into a hug, holding her tight. Aurora choked on the lump in her throat as another wave of tears streamed silently down her cheeks.
“We… we knew this was coming for a long time,” Adriana whispered. Aurora trembled, trying to suppress her sobs as she clutched Adriana tighter. “We knew, but I never thought it would be so soon.”
“I refuse to give you up,” Aurora finally said, pulling away from Adriana.
“But—!” Adriana started but fell quiet when Aurora stubbornly shook her head.
“I don’t love the Duke. I will never love him. Not as much as I love you,” she whispered, cupping Adriana’s cheek. A tear fell from her eye and Aurora wiped it away with her thumb. “They can’t separate us.”
“We can’t run away,” Adriana said, her brows furrowing in worry.
“I know,” Aurora said, frowning in thought. She stood up and started to pace, thinking aloud. “We can’t escape this. What can we do? We have to do something.”
“We could still see each other if we’re married, couldn’t we?” Adriana asked.
“That’s it!” Aurora exclaimed, whirling around with a bright smile on her face.
“What is?” Adriana questioned, looking at her confused.
“We’ve heard of husbands who say they’re going on trips when they’re really out with other women. Why can’t women do the same?”
“You want us to sleep with other men?” Adriana gasped, horrified.
“No, silly!” Aurora laughed, her worries falling away as she worked out a plan. “We will visit each other. Once we’re married, our husbands will be busy with their duties and have no time for us. If we ask for each other to spend the night when they leave on business trips, there’s no reason for them to deny us. They’ll have no reason to suspect anything immoral since we’re both women.”
“Do you really think that will work?” Adriana asked, beginning to look excited as well.
“It has to.”
“It’s a beautiful gown,” Adriana whispered sadly as she admired the dress that had been delivered early in the morning. For seven months since her father had told her about her marriage to the Duke, the Duke had sent gifts of luxurious gowns or jewelry drowning in precious stones to show off his wealth. She was supposed to wear them during the wedding festivities, and she was sure any other woman would be honored but she just wanted to throw them back in the Duke’s face. She hadn’t even met him yet, for Heaven’s sake!
“I want to cut it into ribbons,” Aurora seethed, glaring at the monstrosity of bows and lace.
“You cannot!” Adriana gasped. “It’s an engagement present!”
“I won’t. But I won’t wear it either,” Aurora spat. “Father might be over the moon, but I’d rather slaughter them both like the pigs they are.”
“Aurora, don’t say such horrid things,” Adriana scolded, looping her arm through Aurora’s and taking hold of her fisted hand, gently uncurling her fingers then pressing a sweet kiss to each one successfully separated.
“I am sorry, my love. I’m just so angry,” Aurora replied, looking away guiltily.
“I understand. Come, let us visit the gardens. They’re blooming beautifully this year,” Adriana suggested, taking Aurora’s hand and squeezing it comfortingly.
“Thanks to your gifted hands,” Aurora replied, swooping down to give her a quick kiss.
“Shh! You know ladies aren’t supposed to work in the garden,” Adriana hissed, looking around warily as they stepped outside of Aurora’s bedroom.
“What? You mean I can’t brag about my lover’s gift for flowers to every single person I meet?” Aurora gasped dramatically.
“It’s enough that Tom was kind enough to teach me,” she replied, a soft smile on her face as she thought of the middle-aged gardener. He treated them both like they were his own daughters, so they held a special fondness for the man.
“Miss Genovesi, a letter has come from the Count of Pievepelago,” Lila announced, stopping them before they could go into the kitchens to escape through the back. She held out a silver platter with a letter and a letter opener laid over it.
“From Father? Whatever for?” Adriana asked as dread began to creep into Aurora’s chest. Not her too. “Well, it can’t be anything too serious, right? Since it came as a letter,” she assured Aurora, seeing her trepidation. Despite her words, they moved down the hall to a small study for some privacy. She opened the wax seal with the letter opener Lila offered, pulling out the thick stationary and beginning to read. “Oh,” she breathed, staring down at it in shock.
“What does it say?” Aurora asked anxiously. Please, God, not her too, she begged internally.
Adriana swallowed, tears pooling in her eyes as she tore her gaze away from the letter and turned to Aurora. “I am to come home immediately. Father wishes for me to meet my suitor in person. He is the Marquis of Fosdinovo. A suitable match for a Count’s daughter,” she choked out.
“Oh, Adri,” Aurora said, crossing the few feet between them and pulling her into a tight hug. Lila remained emotionless, giving Aurora another curtsy before she left the room, closing the door behind her to give them a moment alone. Adriana broke down, sobbing into Aurora’s shoulder.
“Why did he not tell me?” Adriana cried. “Mother never even mentioned a fiancé in her last letter. Why hide this from me?”
“I don’t know, love,” Aurora whispered, kissing the crown of her head and holding her tight.
Adriana looked up at her, tears in her bright blue eyes. “Why must we marry others at all?”
“It is our duty as daughters of nobility to marry well for our families to prosper,” Aurora repeated what their governess had always told them bitterly.
“It’s not fair. I wish to be with you. I love you.”
“I love you too,” Aurora admitted, tears pooling in her dark eyes as Adriana continued to sob. “I’m so sorry.”
“We’ll stay together though?” Adriana asked, looking up at Aurora fearfully.
“Through it all,” Aurora promised, kissing the corner of her lips.
“Always,” Adriana breathed, looking relieved, before she pulled her lover into a desperate kiss. There was so little time left. They had to spend each moment together. Aurora wouldn’t lose Adriana. She couldn’t.
The day had finally arrived. Only a year after her engagement, Adriana was getting married at sixteen years old. Aurora walked into the Catholic Church near the Marquis’ estate with her father. The church was decorated with bright purple flowers lining the red-carpeted aisle, and the stained-glass window reflected the afternoon sun down onto the priest waiting by the altar. Aurora’s father led her to the front where Adriana’s family was waiting.
“Lord Bergiola! Welcome! I am happy to see you here,” Lord Rinaldo exclaimed, shaking her father’s hand.
“Lord Pievepelago, it has been too long,” Aurora’s father greeted. “Lady Pievepelago,” he said, bowing his head to Adriana’s mother.
“Please, Orsino, I insist you call me Penelope. And you remember our sons?” she said, gesturing to the two men standing behind her. One had his arm wrapped around the waist of a heavily pregnant woman.
“Viscount Claudio Fiorillo and my wife, Isabella,” the oldest one of about twenty years introduced himself, shooting out a hand to shake her father’s. The older lord chuckled at his enthusiasm but shook it without a word.
“Mister Benedetto Genovesi,” the second son, who looked about eighteen, said, shaking her father’s hand as well then kissing her own.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Aurora greeted with a curtsy.
“And it’s a pleasure to see you as well, Miss Galenus,” Adriana’s father said, giving her a polite nod and smile.
“Soon to be the Duchess of Modena,” Aurora’s father piped up, his voice smug.
“Truly?” Lord Rinaldo asked while Lady Penelope gasped.
“Indeed. This June, in fact,” Aurora’s father boasted.
“Congratulations. Cristiana would be so proud of the lady you’ve become,” Lady Penelope said, her eyes becoming teary as she pulled Aurora into a hug.
The priest suddenly cleared his throat next to them as the two women pulled away, drawing Adriana’s father’s attention. He nodded to him. “Well, if you’ll excuse me. It’s time to begin. Afterwards, you’ll have to tell me how this came about,” Lord Rinaldo told Aurora’s father with a grin.
“Certainly!” Lord Orsino agreed, and Lord Rinaldo nodded then wandered away. “If you’ll excuse me as well, Lady Penelope,” Aurora’s father added, pressing a kiss to her knuckles. Lady Penelope nodded, sitting in the front row with the rest of the family while Aurora’s father ushered them into the pew behind them.
The priest went into the sacristy, returning with the bishop, Adriana’s fiancé, and the Marquis’ best man. They spoke for a moment and then the bishop cued the trio of violinists to the left of the altar to begin playing.
The church doors opened and everyone stood. Adriana waited in the doorway, her arm held by her father so he could lead her down the aisle. Force her, if he had to.
Adriana was a vision in white. She took Aurora’s breath away and crushed her heart all at once. Her hair was pinned up, hidden underneath her veil along with her face. Adriana’s shoulders trembled as she walked down the aisle and Aurora could imagine the tears slipping down her cheeks. The same that wanted to slip down her own. The long train was carried by two ladies, presumably the Marquis’ family members, and with each step Adriana took towards the bishop and her fiancé, Aurora’s soul died more and more. She couldn’t stand it.
Her father gave her away to her soon-to-be husband and the bishop began the service. Aurora’s fists clenched her skirt and she shut her eyes, not wanting to look any longer. Why must this happen? Why did she have to watch her loved one marry another? Why couldn’t they return to the peaceful days where they had no duties but their love for each other?
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride,” the elderly bishop finally announced what felt like hours later. The Marquis lifted Adriana’s veil then leaned in, and Aurora’s heart cracked. The attendees stood and cheered when the couple parted. The Marquis turned and waved at them, Adriana tucked close to his side.
The guests left the nave and moved outside, readying their rose petals and rice grains as they waited for the newlyweds to appear. Aurora watched in pained silence, hidden behind the crowd as they tossed the petals and rice on the couple that raced to their carriage. Adriana paused and looked around as the Marquis opened the door to the carriage for her, searching for something. Her gaze met Aurora’s and she suddenly teared up, stepping forward like she wanted to come to her. Aurora gave her lover a sad smile, inclining her head, then her husband pulled her inside and sat her down on the cushion beside him.
The guests moved to the Marquis’ residence, where the reception would be held. The guests lined up by rank, which meant Aurora and her father were closer to the front.
“Lord Bergiola,” the Marquis greeted when they came face to face, shaking his hand.
“Congratulations, Lord Fosdinovo,” Aurora’s father replied, bowing his head.
“Aurora,” Adriana finally choked out.
“Adriana,” Aurora replied, smiling sadly once again.
“Ah, you must be Miss Aurora Galenus. My cousin has spoken to me about your impending ceremony,” the Marquis said with a smile. He was handsome, Aurora supposed. It was hard to tell since she had never met anyone as magnificent as the woman standing next to him. He had golden blond hair and bright green eyes, but his smile seemed forced and his eyes looked almost bored. Nevertheless, at age twenty-five he was an accomplished Marquis from a wealthy family. Like Adriana said, a perfect match for a Count’s daughter. It tore her apart inside.
“Oh,” Aurora replied belatedly, her mind blank. “I-I didn’t know you two were related, Lord Fosdinovo.”
“Yes, distantly. But we are close in age so we remained friends throughout the years,” he replied.
“Aurora has been my closest… friend since childhood,” Adriana announced, swallowing thickly at the term and forcing down another wave of tears.
“Well, it was a pleasure to meet you, but we should probably see to our other guests,” the Marquis dismissed them. Aurora curtsied and her father bowed.
“But—“ Adriana whispered, only to break off when her husband shot her a hard look. She shut her mouth, her gaze lowering to the ground submissively. Aurora’s temper flared. Who did he think he was, talking to her like that?
“I will speak with you later,” Aurora promised, letting her father take her arm and lead her away.
“Next it is your turn,” Aurora’s father spoke smugly, observing the room as they went to where they would be seated. “Imagine how magnificent the reception of a duke will be!”
Behind his back, Aurora shot him a look of disgust.
The banquet passed in a blur. Aurora didn’t even taste the food, too busy staring at her lover who looked like her world had been shattered. Adriana tried to plaster on a smile anyway. She always tried too hard to make sure everyone believed she was happy, but Aurora knew the truth. She knew it because she could feel the pain in her own heart, the bile rising in her throat, and her clammy hands as she took another gulp of wine.
Once the meal ended, the married couple shared their first dance. Aurora stood to the side of the room, watching the pair longingly. She wished it was her holding Adriana, her twirling her across the room. At least then Adriana would be smiling.
The dance ended and the guests clapped. “Excuse me,” Aurora whispered to her father, leaving his side without waiting for a response. She traveled swiftly around the room, keeping an eye on Adriana as her husband led her to the side, letting her rest as the other guests started dancing. The Marquis left her alone, heading to get them drinks, and Aurora took the opportunity.
“Aurora!” Adriana gasped, her hand over her heart when she turned around and saw the girl behind her. “You scared me half to death!” she exclaimed, swatting at Aurora’s shoulder.
“Sorry,” Aurora apologized, chuckling at Adriana’s pout. “Come on. Let’s go somewhere private.”
“What?” Adriana asked, confused, but didn’t resist as Aurora tugged her towards the empty balcony.
“You looked miserable in there. I thought I would rescue you,” Aurora joked, but she couldn’t muster up a grin to go with her teasing tone.
“You know why,” Adriana whispered, smiling sadly. “I missed you. It feels like it’s been an eternity since we were last together at your manor.”
“I agree,” Aurora replied, cupping Adriana’s cheek. She didn’t dare lean in for a kiss, fearful that others would see. “Would the bride care for a dance?” she asked, lowering her hand to offer it out to her.
“You are the only one I want to dance with,” Adriana admitted, taking it without any hesitation. They danced slowly to the music, with Aurora taking the lead. As the song came to an end, Aurora twirled her lover around, grinning when Adriana giggled, happy to see her first true smile of the day. She pulled her back and held her close.
“I love you,” Aurora whispered, staring down into her love’s watery blue eyes. “I’ll always love you.”
“I love you too. Always,” Adriana replied.
“Adriana. There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” the Marquis interrupted them, frowning disapprovingly at his wife from the doorway.
“I apologize. I was spending a moment alone with Aurora. I felt a little faint,” Adriana lied, quickly pulling away from Aurora.
“Ah. Well, tell me next time so I don’t have to search for you,” her husband replied, disinterested. “Come, I have a few guests you should speak with.” He gestured her over and she hurried to his side, sending an apologetic look back to her lover.
Aurora was left on the balcony, scowling at his back with her hands clenched into fists. He didn’t deserve her.
Aurora smoothed the cream over the greenish-yellow bruise on her cheek, soothing the lingering traces of pain. Then she covered it with a thick layer of powder until it was invisible. Her husband had been gone for two days now, leaving her blissfully alone for two glorious weeks. Even better, Adriana had sent word that her husband was gone.
“Camilla, is the carriage ready?” Aurora asked her personal maid.
“Yes, Your Grace. Will you be needing anything else?” the girl asked to be polite, too well-adjusted to the regular routine after three years to have missed anything.
“No, that will be all. Thank you,” Aurora dismissed her.
“Of course, Your Grace,” Camilla replied, curtsying before she left the room. Aurora stood, straightening her gown one last time before she put on her coat and hat. She left the room without a glance back. The only thing she wanted now was her lover back in her arms.
“Allow me, Your Grace,” the driver offered, helping Aurora into the carriage.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling down at him. The boy no older than her eighteen years blushed brightly, visible even with his tanned skin, then hopped up into the driver’s seat. The two guards mounted their horses and once they gave the signal, the driver snapped the reins and directed the horses forward.
The trip took two days, but it was all worth it when she arrived on the doorstep of the Malaspina manor.
“Lady Fosdinovo, Her Grace, the Duchess of Modena, has arrived,” the butler announced then moved aside to let Aurora enter. Aurora nearly cringed, disgusted to share the name of that monster, but was able to keep a straight face.
“Your Grace,” Adriana said, standing and giving Aurora a curtsy. Aurora was barely able to suppress a flinch.
“Lady Fosdinovo,” Aurora greeted stiffly.
“I shall bring you your tea shortly,” the butler said, smiling brightly as he closed the door behind him.
“Oh, thank God he’s gone,” Adriana gasped, slumping back onto the loveseat. Aurora chuckled at her agonized expression. “Don’t laugh! You don’t know how bad he is! I swear Antoni keeps him here when he leaves to keep an eye on me.”
“Well, I suppose he doesn’t watch close enough then,” Aurora teased, leaning down and capturing Adriana’s lips in a kiss. Adriana returned it eagerly, wrapping her arms around her neck and pulling her down on top of her. They broke apart with a laugh, struggling to sit back up with all of their skirts. Aurora winced as Adriana’s elbows or knees accidentally hit other bruises scattered around her body but didn’t let the pain show. They rearranged themselves just in time for the butler to knock, entering again with a tray of tea and biscuits.
“I’ve missed you, again,” Adriana said once the butler left.
“And I’ve missed you,” Aurora agreed.
“Why won’t you let me come to your manor anymore? Did something happen?” Adriana asked, concerned.
“No, not at all. My husband is just home more often now. This is the first time he’s left in a while,” Aurora lied, smiling apologetically. While that was true, that wasn’t the reason Aurora refused to invite her over. She didn’t want her lover anywhere near the Duke. Not if Aurora could help it.
“I understand. Antoni is being as aloof as ever, which actually makes this easier. It’s the nosy butler I have to watch out for,” Adriana said, scowling at the closed door.
“Well, I’m here now. We might as well enjoy our three days before I have to return,” Aurora said, trailing her finger over Adriana’s clothed thigh.
“Gladly,” Adriana said, a wicked smirk crossing her face before she launched at Aurora for another kiss.
“Your Grace, the master wishes to see you,” Lucille, the wizened head housemaid, said as soon as she entered. Vincent, the butler, took Aurora’s coat and hat without a word and closed the door behind her.
Fear lanced through her but she covered it with a gentle smile. “Oh? He returned so soon?” she asked, He wasn’t supposed to return until the end of the week. Why was he home already?
“Yes, ma’am. And he instructed us to take you to his study the moment you returned.”
“Well, I should change into something more fitting, shouldn’t I?” Aurora asked, her smile faltering as she desperately searched for some way to delay meeting him. Would the carriage still be waiting at the bottom of the staircase if she turned and ran away?
“His Grace was quite adamant,” she replied softly, her eyes filled with pity. Aurora straightened her spine at the sight of it. She was not a coward. She wouldn’t run away and she would never bow to her husband’s blows. She didn’t need to be pitied.
“Lead the way,” Aurora ordered, following after the maid. They traveled down the maze of corridors. With how often she avoided her husband, she was grateful Lucille was there to lead the way. At least she wouldn’t get lost and make him even more angry.
Lucille knocked on the thick wooden doors of the study. “Come in,” they heard from inside, and Lucille gave Aurora a comforting smile before she left.
“Good evening,” Aurora greeted as she walked in, her nose wrinkling as the stench of alcohol bombarded her. The desk and coffee table were littered with empty bottles.
“Where have you been?” Leonardo asked, and Aurora cringed when she noticed the slur of his words.
“I was with Adriana, Duke,” Aurora replied, keeping her gaze down as she gripped the skirts of her dress to hide her shaking hands.
“Liar,” he spat, standing up fast enough that he knocked over his chair. She risked a glance up, taking him in. His hair was graying even though he was only thirty-four. His eyes were rimmed red and he staggered as he walked closer to her. “Where have you been?” he asked again, grabbing her arm. She winced as he squeezed tightly while pulling her closer to him.
“I-I’m telling the truth, Your Grace,” Aurora stuttered.
“Stop lying!” he shouted, striking her in the cheek. She was sent sprawling to the ground, the taste of blood filling her mouth as she clutched her face. “You’re trash! You’re just as worthless as your father! Just as worthless as all the other idiots around me!” Aurora shrieked when he suddenly stepped on the hand propping her up on the ground. She felt her fingers pop as pain radiated up her arm, and as soon as he stepped back she cradled it to her chest.
“What do you want me to say?” Aurora shouted, forgetting herself in that moment.
“I want you to admit that you’ve been sleeping with other men!” he shouted, making Aurora tense.
“What are you talking about? Where did you even hear such a thing?” Aurora asked, staring at him puzzled.
“I said not to lie!” he roared, pulling her up by the collar of her dress. “I know that’s why you’ve been going out so often. You’re disgusting!”
“I told you I was just visiting Adriana,” Aurora whispered, straining to lean away from his vile breath.
“Don’t talk back to me!” he shouted and she choked when he gripped her throat. He looked thoughtful, staring at the wall over her head as he held her by the neck. She scratched at his meaty hand, trying to get him to let go. “Hm. Is that girl in on it too? Is my cousin’s wife a whore too? Maybe I should take care of her as well.”
“Don’t. You. Dare!” Aurora choked out as black spots dotted her vision. She used the last of her energy to kick out at him, hitting him in the shin.
“You bitch!” he howled, dropping her to the ground and clutching his leg. “I’ll kill you for that!” She tried to scramble towards the door but he pulled her back by the hair, throwing her to the ground.
Then he beat her worse than ever before. He didn’t let up. He didn’t stop. She felt bones crack as he kicked her in the side. Her legs. Anywhere he could reach. Even curling in a ball didn’t help. He soon lost interest, storming out of the room, but the damage was done.
He was true to his word. She laid in a pool of her own blood, one of her eyes swollen shut. Her bones were broken. Moving was agonizing, so she just laid there. She felt so cold. A tear fell from her other eye. She wanted Adriana. She wanted to apologize for breaking their promise. She wanted to say goodbye. Most of all, she wanted Leonardo to die.
I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him for doing this to me. He deserves to die, she swore to herself as she faded into blackness. She wouldn’t let him lay a hand on Adriana. He would die by her hands.
“Will he?” a voice asked, and Aurora sat up. She looked around the darkness surrounding her, certain she had heard a voice but unable to find it. The pain was gone, she suddenly realized. She looked down at her body, gasping in alarm when she found she was naked. She quickly covered herself as much as she could with her hands, curling in on herself. Was she dead?
“Who is there?” she demanded but couldn’t keep the tremor out of her voice.
“Calm yourself, child. I will not harm you, not like that scum of a mortal,” the voice assured. A beam of light illuminated a crow with glowing red eyes on a fence post in front of her.
“What are you?” Aurora asked, shielding her body better as she glared suspiciously at the bird.
“A crow,” the masculine voice said with dry amusement. It came from the direction of the crow, but the bird’s beak didn’t move. “Now answer my question: would you really kill that human if given the chance?”
“Without hesitation,” she replied, baring her teeth.
“Would you wish for the power to return? To kill him, however you desire?”
“How would I do that? I am dead, am I not?” she questioned.
“You are on the brink of death. You have a choice to make, and you have a short time to do it. So, would you go back and kill him?”
“What would happen to me if I do?” Aurora asked.
“Ah, a smart one. You would become like me, of course,” the masculine voice replied.
“A crow?” Aurora asked sarcastically, becoming sick of the roundabout answers.
“A demon,” it hissed. The bird suddenly transformed into a shirtless man with black wings and horns twisting out of his black hair. His eyes were glowing red just like the bird’s had been, but the pupil was slitted like a snake’s.
Aurora gasped, quickly backing away. “What do you want from me?” she questioned.
“You seem worthy of being one of my nestmates and I need more demons to help manage my circle. I am Aristopheles, the Archdemon of Wrath and the ruler of the Sixth Circle of Hell. All I ask is that, once you take care of that mortal, you join me in Hell and become part of my nest.”
“What is a nest?” Aurora asked, still wary.
“A nest is the term for the home of demons within Hell. Nestmates are the group of demons who live in the nest,” the demon explained.
“So, you want me to be part of your… family?” Aurora questioned uncertainly.
Aristopheles rolled his eyes, turning his gaze upwards. “Yes, you would be part of my family,” he replied, grimacing at the word. “You become a demon, kill the human, join my nest, and help me torture souls for the rest of eternity.”
Without Adriana, her mind finished, making her shoulders slump. She would never be able to see her lover again. Adriana would never know what had happened to her if she took the deal. But Adriana would also be safe if she killed Leonardo.
“I’ll do it,” she finally decided.
“Excellent,” he said, stepping forward and biting into his pointer finger with a sharp fang. “I’ll ask you now to forgive me for the pain,” he added then pressed his bloody finger into the center of her forehead.
“Pain?” she questioned and then her heart lurched. She collapsed to her knees, staring up at the demon in horror, and then fire burst from her heart and traveled through her veins. Pain worse than anything she had ever experienced in her life, pain worse than anything her husband had done to her, wracked her body. She couldn’t even scream as flames licked her insides and her heart felt like something was crushing it.
It went on for almost an eternity, and then it finally died down. She relaxed for a moment, only for it to begin again but much worse. Her bones snapped and reformed. Something inside her — her organs, she learned after — were being tugged and rearranged. Her skin felt like it was melting off then coming back. Her heart was being squeezed in a vice, refusing to let go, and her blood was boiling her from the inside out. Over and over again, until she could take no more. She would rather die again then take any more of this! Why did she ever agree to a deal with a devil? Make it stop! Make it stop!
The burning receded. She held her breath, not daring to hope again. The grip on her heart loosened. The pain stopped. She opened her eyes and could see.
She could make out much more than she ever saw before. She could see the individual flecks of dust revealed by the sunlight’s rays through the window. She could count each individual thread on the dark green comforter she laid under. She could see each brush stroke on the painting of a bowl of fruit on the wall to her left.
“Ah, you’re awake. I thought it was about time. It’s hard to believe a month has already passed,” a familiar voice commented as she blinked at the painting in awe.
“A month?” Aurora asked, shooting up from the bed she laid in. It was unfamiliar. The demon sat at a small sitting area across the room, reading a book. She didn’t recognize the room. Where was she?
“Come, you must be hungry. I’ll explain everything on the way, and then you can get your revenge,” Aristopheles explained, grinning wickedly when Aurora hopped out of bed. Aurora smirked back at him, following him out the door.
She passed a mirror on the wall, pausing when she spotted her reflection. Underneath her glowing red eyes were black veins that branched halfway down her cheeks. Her red eyes stood out prominently against her pale skin and curly black hair, and dark gray ram horns twisted out of her skull above her ears. She smiled at herself, revealing her own pair of fangs. The Duke would never hurt her or anyone else ever again. She swore it.
“Aurora, please. I miss you.” Aurora heard in her mind. “Adriana?” she asked aloud, turning around.
“Aurora?” Aristopheles asked, dropping the body he was holding since he was finished eating.
“I… I have to go,” Aurora whispered, her surroundings fading as she focused on the call. She appeared in a graveyard. A woman with chestnut brown hair sobbed quietly over a grave, dressed in black.
“Adriana?” Aurora asked and the woman gasped and whipped around, pulling her hands away from her stomach. Aurora’s eyes widened in horror at the knife she held, a drop of blood glistening on the tip. “Adriana, were you—?” she broke off, unable to finish. She wouldn’t have, would she?
“Aurora? Is that really you?” Adriana finally asked, standing to her feet with tears in her eyes. She dropped the knife carelessly, blinking furiously to hold back her tears. Then she stiffened, staring at Aurora warily, her fists clutching the fabric of her gown. “Your eyes…” she whispered, staring at her lover horrified. Aurora had worked out how to hide her demonic features with Aristopheles’ help, but her red eyes were still giving her trouble. “What happened to you? You disappeared. Everyone thought you were dead, especially after your husband’s body was found a month later.”
“I did that. I killed him,” Aurora admitted, making Adriana draw back in horror. “He—He beat me to death, Adri. The only reason I’m here now is because I agreed to become a demon to get revenge.”
“What? Why? Why would you do that?” she asked, horrified.
“I’ve changed, but I’m still me. I swear it, Adriana,” Aurora insisted, stepping forward with her hand outstretched to cup her love’s cheek. Adriana took a step back and Aurora froze, letting her hand drop. “Adri, please,” Aurora choked out.
“There you are. I was wondering why you disappeared,” Aristopheles said as he stepped out of the shadow of a mausoleum. “That was quick,” he muttered, eyeing Adriana.
“What was?” Aurora asked, shifting in front of her lover protectively.
“You’ve found your demon mate,” he replied, smiling gently at her. It was a completely different expression than she had seen so far, stunning her.
“What does that mean?” Adriana asked, her brows furrowed with worry.
“Each turned demon, like you, is given a mate,” Riven explained, looking at Aurora. “A human that is their perfect match. A demon can wait their entire lives for a mate since there is no set time that they will be born. Since you two were both born in this time, it seems you two are demon mates and human soul mates.”
“How is that possible?” Aurora asked, looking at her lover in shock.
“Really?” Adriana asked, hopeful.
“It’s rare, certainly, but not impossible. The mate’s demon blood helps the human transition into a demon. It’s likely she had an ancestor who was a demon mate who had a child before they were eighteen or if they rejected the bond. Or it could simply be a mutation in her blood. Did you experience any pain within the last month? Like you were burning alive?” he asked Adriana.
She swallowed, looking pale. “Two nights after Aurora left my house, I woke up in agony,” she admitted. “The maids thought I was possessed.” Aurora reached out, wanting to comfort her, but held back. Adriana bit her lower lip, looking regretful as Aurora turned back to Aristopheles.
Aristopheles nodded knowingly as realization dawned on Aurora. “That’s when Leonardo killed me,” she said, making Adriana’s breath hitch.
“Yes. Her demon blood awoke when you were turned, allowing you to recognize her as your mate. Perhaps you could even call it God’s Will.” Aristopheles scoffed, rolling his eyes and turning away.
“But you’re alright now?” Adriana asked hesitantly, stepping forward and taking Aurora’s hand.
“I am. Better than alright, really. And I’m with you, so nothing could be better,” Aurora teased, making Adriana blush.
“Stop it,” she chided, lightly smacking Aurora’s shoulder.
“So what now?” Aurora asked, turning back to Aristopheles.
“You can turn her into a demon and she can join my nest as well, if she wishes,” he said with a shrug.
Aurora turned to Adriana but before she could even ask, Adriana latched her arms around Aurora’s neck and kissed her. “Yes. Yes, turn me. I don’t want to be without you anymore. I cannot bear it,” she pleaded when she pulled back, not letting her go. Aurora glanced at the knife still laying on the grave then closed her eyes in pain, burying her face in her lover’s hair.
“I will never leave you again,” Aurora promised and she smelled the salt of tears as they pooled in Adriana’s eyes again.
“There’s a process to it, but my nestmate has a mate he turned. I can bring them here and have them explain how to do it,” Aristopheles offered.
“Thank you,” Aurora told Aristopheles gratefully, pulling away from Adriana. “For everything.”
“Yes, thank you,” Adriana agreed, tears pooling in her eyes.
“Anything for a nestmate,” he smirked then disappeared into another shadow, either to call his other nestmates or to give them a moment alone.
“You see? I told you we would always be together,” Aurora teased, leaning in and stealing a kiss from her soulmate.
“You were right,” Adriana replied, smiling happily as she leaned her forehead against Aurora’s. “And I’m happy you were.”
Well, that’s it!
(Not-so-)fun fact: in THE INFERNAL KING, I originally planned to kill either Adriana or Aurora off so the line I added into the short story, “I will never leave you again” is even more heartbreaking knowing that. The only reason it never happened because I changed up the ending and never had a big battle in Hell.
Remember, THE INFERNAL KING comes out in two weeks! You can preorder now from Amazon or you can wait until the 28th to buy it on other sites like iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and more.
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