If the last couple of months had left Ruby starved for companionship, then Cole was a substantial contender to sate her. Before he could register her presence, she studied him hard. Greedily, she drank him in. He stood with more bravado than she'd ever seen; his shoulders squared, his chin slightly raised, and his jaw set hard and determined. Ruby bit the insides of her cheek in apprehension. She regarded him with reverence. He was devastatingly beautiful. For a brief moment it was easy not to question his role as Starborn King. Not to question any of this, or want to return to West Sparrow. Home was wherever he lead her....
Cole stepped fully into the room, and let the heavy doors fall shut behind him. Footsteps sounded closer, and she pulled out of her head. She focused her gaze on him. A mixture of emotions played across his face; shock, regret, pain. Relief, joy.
“You're hurt.” Cole crossed over to her. His brow furrowed with rage.
Ruby held up a hand. “Its not what you think Cole! I needed to look as if I were being held against my will, as if I had a turbulent escape. I needed to get by Avelen's guards without question”
Cole's eyes searched her face frantically. “Not what I think? How did you get the bruises?” He reached over to touch her face. She flinched away from his hand. “I sparred with a woman in Damian's army.”
Cole took a step away from her. He was appalled at the ease in which she had used Felgroth's first name. “Damian? The Dragon King?”
Ruby nodded. She had practiced this speech over and over in her head on her journey to Avelen. She hadn't considered that the mere sight of her best friend would cause her to trip on her words. She hadn't counted on his proximity making her lightheaded, and flustered. “Tome. The Tome. I need it," she stammered. "Your wife is a liar, she has everyone deceived into thinking-”
Cole shook his head. “I know how this must feel. Returning home to see me married, to the one person you can't stand, but rationalize for a moment. Maybe...maybe those emotions you're feeling over this are clouding your judgment.”
The comment stung, worse than any of the blows Cora had managed to land on her face. She turned her back. In the corner of a room was a mountain of presents wrapped delicately in colorful silk ribbons. She ran her finger along the silky bow securing a cubed shaped gift. “This is beyond you and me. Don’t make this about us right now,” she said quietly. “Damian is not the monster we've been lead to believe he is! He was cast out of Avelen when he refused Aira. He settled in another location; Dragon Crest. Aira retaliated. They burned the Kingdom, innocent people died because her ego hurt, because he didn't want to play her stupid little game! And now,” she paused to catch her breath. “Now you’re playing it.”
Cole walked over to where she stood. He clasped her arm, urging her to turn around. His touch burned; an unpleasant reminder that he was not hers to hold anymore. He never was. When she turned to face him; her eyes were full of pain and accusation. The corners of his mouth slopped into a frown. “Ruby two months is a long time. Time enough to manipulate someone into believing what they wanted. Did he tell you what would happen when you gave him the tome?”
Ruby swallowed. “Don't patronize me.”
He tried his best to neutralize his voice. “What, did he say?”
Ruby redirected her gaze. “He said he could get us home.”
Something inside Cole ticked. “Of course he did, and you believed that without question. You're trying to accuse Aira of doing something so evil-”
“Did you forget that I walked in on her doing black magic?”
“That doesn’t mean-”
Her fingers twisted angrily into the silky red bow. "Stop trying to protect her! Of course you'd want to believe she was innocent. After all you married her!”
Cole grabbed her other arm, caging her in. “I did it to help you, to help the whole kingdom!”
Ruby shook him off and dropped the present she'd been admiring. Its contents were audibly fragile. Her eyes widened. Cole's mouth set into a grim line. Without knowing why she did it, she picked up another box, a smaller one; ornament shaped. “If you hadn’t wanted to play hero all this time, we could have already found a way back home. West Sparrow; our real home, where I have family waiting for me!”
He released her and began taking steps to distance himself until his back hit the wall. “Do you mean the family that always takes advantage of you? Siblings that hit you up for money, the Father who abandoned you...or your delusional drunk mom?" He seethed. "Come to think of it, that's who you remind me of right now.”
She whipped her arm back and launched the concealed ball into the air. It crashed at his feet. Splinters of glass shattered onto the floor.
His eyes became steely. As if of one mind, they concurrently crossed the room until they collided in the middle. She clutched onto him fervently.