Page 80 of Ruined Kingdom

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“Into the bath with you, little Emma,” she says, helping her with her clothes, the same things I guess she was wearing to the daycare. I recognize them.

Hyacinth and I settle on the edge of the bath, and I begin to tell her what’s going on. Who Bastian is, for starters. I ask Emma if he was nice to her. She shrugs a shoulder and nods. When I ask her if she was scared, she puts her fingers together to show me that she was a little scared.

“He was very gentle with her,” Hyacinth says when Emma has her back to us. She’s playing with a toy while I shampoo her hair. “Asked her if she wanted to come see you. She slipped her hand right into his, which surprised me. All those men, it was pretty terrifying,” she whispers so only I can hear. “What’s going on? Are you all right?” She looks at the rings on my hand.

I nod. “I don’t know how much you or Emma saw of the funeral.”

“I took her away when…”

“Thank you.”

She puts a hand on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze.

“Are you…?” She trails off and is interrupted by Emma turning to show us one of the toys.

“Who’s hungry for breakfast? I know I am,” I say, needing time to figure out how to explain things to Hyacinth. Emma, I can distract for now.

Emma rubs her belly and nods.

“Hyacinth, if you can help Emma get dressed, I’ll just go put something on. We’ll get you some fresh clothes too.” I think she should be Francesca’s size.

But when I turn to go, Emma’s face gets serious, and she grabs me, shaking her head frantically.

“It’s okay. I’ll be right back. My clothes are down the hall. I promise. I’ll be right back. Maybe we can both wear pink dresses today. What do you think?”

That seems to appease her although her eyebrows are still furrowed. I’m able to slip away to Amadeo’s room, where I notice the bed has been made, and I wonder if he slept here at all. I don’t see any soldiers but do hear them downstairs, and I hurry to dress, putting on the first pink sundress I come across, simple and pretty and not too revealing. I find a pair of flat sandals and just take a quick glance in the mirror to comb through my hair, working it into a ponytail as I hurry back to Emma’s room.

She’s pulling on her shoes, the same ones she always wears. She loves them. They’re a pair of sparkly multicolored tennis shoes Mom gave her for her last birthday. Luckily, they’d been too big for her then because since Mom’s passing, she wears them almost exclusively, and it shows.

I take her hand, and we head to the kitchen. Hyacinth follows us, and I’m watchful for the brothers. I’m grateful when Amadeo walks out of his study when we get down the stairs.

“Vittoria,” he says, looking me over before his gaze moves to Hyacinth. He nods to her. “Good morning. I’m Amadeo.”

“Morning,” she says cautiously. “Hyacinth.”

“This must be little Emma,” he says, crouching down in front of her. Surprising me completely.

Emma leans away a little and glances up at me, then she looks at him, studying his face as he does hers. He smiles and holds out his hand.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” he says.

She glances at me again, and I nod, so she puts her tiny hand in his giant one. He gives it a gentle shake, then lets it go.

“You must be hungry.” He stands.

“We are,” I say.

“Well, I hope you like pancakes because there are about a hundred stacks in the kitchen.”

Emma’s eyes grow huge, and her mouth falls open. I smile. She’s so literal at her age.

“Come on, I’ll take you in and introduce you to Francesca and my mom. They’re the cooks, meaning they’re the most important people in this house, especially regarding things like cookies.” He winks at her, and although she doesn’t quite smile, she’s curious. He’s speaking almost exclusively to her, which is surprising to me. As surprising as his gentle tone, which he has used with me very rarely and mostly to get what he wants.

“Amadeo,” I say, touching his arm. “Hyacinth needs some clothes. I wonder if maybe Francesca would lend her something?”

He looks at her. “Of course. I’ll get it taken care of.”

We follow him into the kitchen, where Francesca and Amadeo’s mom turn to greet us from where they’re standing at the stove flipping pancakes. Although there aren’t a hundred stacks, there are quite a few.

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