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PRINCE OF SHADOWS
by Rachel Caine

Genre: Historical, Young Adult

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“Are you all right?” Rosaline whispered, just for my ears, and I had to struggle to hold myself quiet, to not betray my surprise. She asked after me? “You have blood on your neck.”

“It isn’t mine,” I said. I felt light-headed, hot, and my heart was suddenly beating too quickly. “I could ask you the same, my lady.”

She was so very still that she might have been marble herself, carved by the same master who’d made the holy statue. “A nun needs no beauty.” It was calm enough, but it wrenched at my heart. “But I will heal right enough. You must go, before you’re seen.”

She said it out of concern for me, but it was her own life in jeopardy, as well I knew. I’d receive a scorching rebuke from my grandmother, at worst, but Tybalt had already punished Rosaline viciously. Any other missteps could result in one of House Capulet’s famous accidents, so common to disobedient daughters. Easy enough to trip and fall on the steep, slick stairs, or to suffer a sudden and fatal sickness. The world had no shortage of ways to die, for either of us.

“I killed two of your brother’s men just now,” I said. “They would have killed me.” Why I said it, I do not know; I simply needed to do it, and her head bowed just a little more, as if from the weight of my admission. “It never ends, does it?”

“No,” she said softly. “Pray God it does, someday, but it will not end today, nor likely tomorrow.”

I crossed myself, rose, and retreated to where Balthasar was fidgeting nervously from foot to foot. He breathed a sigh of relief when I took my place beside him. He didn’t say it, but I read the stiff disapproval in his body language.

I nodded to him and headed toward the exit.

“Sir?” he asked, startled, and hurried to catch up. “Were you not here to be shrived?”

“I’ve confessed as much as I need,” I said. “The rest can wait.” In truth, in my most heretical heart, I thought there was no real forgiveness for taking a life, in this world or the next, regardless of what the priests might say.

I wished I’d been able to see her face, but I knew that witnessing the bruises and cuts again would have given me no peace, only ignited another round of fury at Tybalt. Perhaps she had known it, too. Or perhaps I only imagined the friendship between us, fragile and unspoken and as deadly to us both as a cup of poison.
Who’s the foolish one now? I asked myself, and vowed that I would apologize to my cousin Romeo.
Soon.