Mistwood
confusing people. Isabel could use Clarisse.
    Or Clarisse could use her.
    The temptation faded, leaving a faint tinge of regret behind. It was too risky. She didn’t understand the princess at all; didn’t understand her motives, her goals, the contradictions in what she said and in the ways she acted. There was no way Isabel could control Clarisse.
    “You advised Rokan not to come get me,” Isabel said sweetly. “So you’re not always right, are you?”
    Clarisse considered her for a moment. Then one corner of her mouth twisted upward, her cheek dimpling in what was almost a smile. “I think,” she said as she stood, “that that remains to be seen.”
    Isabel watched Clarisse walk away. It was entirely possible, she thought as she rose from the bench, that she had just made her biggest mistake since the moment she let Rokan fasten that bracelet around her wrist.
     
     
    Will was waiting in Rokan’s room, pouting because he hadn’t been invited to talk with him and Clarisse. Rokan stopped in the doorway, almost more afraid than he had been when he first saw the snowcat. But there was no disappointment in Will’s eyes, only anger.
    “I liked her,” Will said.
    Rokan clenched his jaw. When he spoke, he made not the slightest effort to control his voice and was surprised when it emerged steady anyhow. He was learning to be a king.
    “I thought I knew her. I saw what I wanted to see, I suppose. I fooled myself.”
    “She fooled you,” Will said. “She’s not a bad actress, is she?”
    “No. She’s not. I didn’t even think she was capable of telling a lie….” His voice wavered there a bit. Careful, Rokan .
    Someone coughed, and he turned to see the Shifter standing behind him. She was still wearing her tattered rose-colored gown, slashed into barely decent pieces by the snowcat meant for him. Her skin beneath the strips of fabric was whole and clean, though he had seen her flesh torn into ribbons. Her eyes were wide and intent, watching him.
    It felt like a reproach. Rokan took a step back and said, “I’m not you, Isabel. I’m human, and I believed what I wanted to believe. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted her to love me.”
    She blinked. Will, unhelpfully, said, “Clarisse didn’t like Daria.”
    “Clarisse doesn’t like anyone,” Rokan snapped. “She didn’t understand Daria, that was all. They were too different.”
    “I guess she understood her better than you,” Will said.
    His tone wasn’t accusing, or sharp, but Rokan’s breath caught. He gave his brother a slow, sideways look. Will was grimacing slightly, but the expression was for Daria, not for him.
    Rokan exhaled. It had to happen eventually, he knew. One day Will would look at him the way he had once looked at his father. The hero worship would drain from his eyes, and in its absence would come hate—hate because he wasn’t a hero, wasn’t worthy of worship. Sooner or later it would happen.
    But not today. He couldn’t bear it today. Not right after the way Daria had looked at him, in that second before she vanished.
    He faced the Shifter again. She would see him the same way for a hundred years, if he lived that long. He was not a person to her, only a king. For once he welcomed that. “Will, you should go.”
    His brother scurried out of the room, giving the Shifter a wide berth. Isabel didn’t even acknowledge him as he passed. “Do you think Albin will try again?” she said.
    It was a stupid question. Not really a question, then—merely a way of opening the conversation. “I don’t know. I don’t want—” He took a deep breath and stepped back again. “I don’t want to talk about it now. All right?”
    “He could strike at any time. We have to—”
    “Please.”
    She studied him for a moment. Her eyes were dark now, like the snowcat’s, cool and opaque. He wondered if she felt sorry for him, or if she was simply assessing his ability to handle Daria’s betrayal. Did the Shifter like him? Or did she

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