Giselle accepted the teacup. “Why are you being so nice to me, Doamna Z apada?”
The woman sighed. “It broke my heart to learn that your parents disowned you. Word spreads quickly through the opera house—and because I'm a mother hen to all my celebrated singers, I knew you'd need some moral support on your wedding day.”
“You must be a loving mother to your own children,” Giselle said gently.
Ileana's expression turned icy. “I never had children of my own. I have a stepdaughter, but we aren't particularly close.”
“Well, I sincerely appreciate your help.” Giselle smiled. “Clasping the buttons on the back of my dress would have been impossible on my own.”
As she sipped her tea, her entire body warmed instantly and she began to perspire. I must be more nervous than I thought…
Ileana went on. “I greatly admire your vocal talent, Giselle. I also admire your extraordinary beauty. Unfortunately, I'm about to sabotage those exceptional attributes.”
Alarm pierced through Giselle. She tried to protest but before she could speak a word, her throat burned as if she'd ingested hot coals. She clawed at it while Ileana studied her the way a snake zeroes in on its prey. Giselle tried to extend her hand, but her limbs prickled with pain. In an instant, her skin shriveled dramatically and her knuckles became hideously gnarled.
“Poor, unknowing girl.” Ileana stood over her. “I'm an enchantress of the Dark Arts and I slipped an accursed potion into the tea pot when you weren't looking.”
Giselle opened her mouth to scream, but no sound escaped her lips. With great effort, she crawled to the mirror like an invalid and stared at her reflection. My God! I'm a mute, old woman!
Heart stuttering, she managed to pull herself to her feet. She flung open the door and entered the chapel. All heads jerked in her direction. When she locked eyes with Lucian, he stared at her in astonishment yet without an ounce of recognition.
All hope evaporated from her body as he thundered, “Is that woman wearing my bride's dress? Somebody find Giselle!”
“The hag must be playing a cruel joke!” a guest accused.
“Escort her outside,” Lucian roared to an usher.
A burly man took Giselle by the arm and dragged her out the front door. Once he disappeared back into the church, another strong arm grabbed her unexpectedly and thrust her inside an awaiting carriage.
Giselle quaked with terror as she stared at the enormous man hovering over her.
“I work for Ileana.” He grunted. “She commands that you become her servant woman—until she grows tired of you and decides to turn you back into your normal self.”
Giselle made another futile attempt to cry out.
The henchman crossed his arms and shook his head. “You won't be talking, singing, or screaming for a very long time, Miss Swenov. That should make for a quiet ride to Dantel House.”