Authors: Mary Weber
“If I'd told you I suspected it at Adora's, or even a few weeks ago when Draewulf had shape-shifted into me, what would you have done?”
“I would've appreciated your honesty.”
His chuckle is soft. Even as the next moment the tired tension etched through his countenance suddenly acknowledges where we areâand what we've been throughâand it's as if the events of these past few weeks have just dropped into this room, and we are both staring it all in the face. “No. You would've scoffed and resented the pressure that kind of expectation put upon you. And back at Adora's, you would've run.”
“I would not have run. Iâ”
He stares at me.
I'd believed you. But your trust problems notwithstanding, the fact that you didn't tell meâ”
His tone edges cold. “Tell you what? That your parents weren't really your parents and your royal blood makes you a final pawn in a madman's game? Not perhaps the best use of time while trying to earn a terrified girl's trustâparticularly one whose emotions call down lightning on anyone who infuriates her.”
“But neither was withholding it.”
His expression narrows as he shifts against the bed. “In that case, I pray you'll forgive me for being an unbearably selfish person. Because I can say with all confidence you
would have trusted me, let alone spoken another word to me, if I'd told you then.” His jaw flexes before he looks away and murmurs, “And that was something I was wholly unwilling to induce.”
Whatever my next words were going to be, they're shoved aside as his gaze slips self-consciously onto my lips, then my torn clothing and hands.
He couldn't bear me not speaking to him?
“Besides, it's not something either of us needs to worry about. I won't let Draewulf near you. And if there comes a more suitable time when you'd like to investigate your heritage, I will try to help as much as I'm able.”
“I'm not sure you or I will have much control over how near Draewulf gets to us. But . . . thanks.” I brush my fingers against my dress only to find them met by a light scratching in the veins of my wrist.
As if to remind me it's still there.
The poison. Diminished now by the Elemental song that's reclaimed my blood, but the dark power I ingested still exists too.
He frowns and leans forward so he's looking straight at me. “How are you? The rest of youâsince the other abilities and the
Keep and . . . Colin.” He tips his chin back just enough to truly examine my eyes.
I open my mouth to tell him that it's fineâthat everything's fine now and I am fine too, but the grief that suddenly creases his softening green eyes stops me. And reminds me that we both feel it. I blink quickly, and he gives a single nod that says he hates the loss as much as I do.
His gaze falls and I scrutinize it, scrutinize his sallowing skin as I step away from the window. “I'd say I'm still better than you, I suspect.”
He chuckles. “I'm all right.” But something in that rich tone suggests he is lying. He's not all right. He's not been since Draewulf.
I slip over to drop beside him and touch his chest through his bloody shirt, feel for the bones covering his heart. “And this? How is it?”
His large fingers slide over my deformed ones and hold them in place on his chest. Even as I catch his glance toward the bed where Lady Isobel was splayed out only hours ago.
I don't know if it's the fact that Eogan spent so many years without the ability to feel for anyone but her or that he spent them in the throes of passion with her that makes me cringe more.
“Nymia,” Eogan whispers.
I shake off that woman's presence as he presses my hand harder beneath his, as if to make me read his feelings aloud here and claim them forever. As if I could know how else to fix him internally along with his weakened body. I swallow back a choked sadness. For him. For me.
A heavy raindrop hits the roof.
It's followed by another, then another, as the drizzle turns to a downpour, lending to the weight of the atmosphere and magnifying itâmatching his heartpulse that is picking up beneath his hand
he's just slid beneath my chin. He lifts my face until my eyes meet his and allows me to see his soul for a brief moment. As if to declare it now beats fresh and free of Draewulf's control and Isobel's treachery.
His other thumb slides to my wrist and compresses so I can feel my own heart pulsing as well. A rhythm for a rhythm, like the storm descending on our ceiling. Out of sync but still in pattern. Full of harmonious beauty and cold and closeness.
That friction in the air becomes unbearable. Just like his eyes and his warm fingers against my hand, and his heart beat beat beating beneath my skin, burning my veins with tension.
Blast you, Eogan.
I swallow before my lungs come undone right in front of him. But it's too late because I can feel the ridge of bones over his heart expanding as he leans in closer, measuring the distance in inches between us so we are mere shadows of skin and sinew and breath. With an expression that says exactly what we are both hungry for.
Don't move, Nym. Don't breathe. Don't break this moment.
I just stare at this man who was strong enough to survive Draewulf. Who was strong enough to survive me and all I've done.
Who was humble enough to survive his own history.
His gaze moves to my throat, then stalls on my mouth and stays there. And in it I see the same look I've come to know so well, the thing that means more to me than any notion of desire ever could.
My insides dissolve to match the rain coming down overhead as his breath catches. I hear it. I swear I hear it, except he doesn't lean in farther, doesn't press it as a shadow flits behind his gaze. As if he's been sitting in this room, waiting for this moment, and now he can't decide what to do with it. Noâwhat he
do with it.
He glances toward the door. “Nym, Iâ”
That ache in his eyes becomes more pronounced.
“When Draewulf was acting as me . . .”
What did the queen say to him? Because it had to be her who gave him cautionâwho made his hesitancy so raw.
“Were the things he did through me as bad as I imagine?”
I swallow. And now I am aching too.
My lack of answer leads him to nod. “I see.”
“It wasn't you.” Although I of all people know that doesn't appease the guilt.
“I know. I just keep thinking, what if there'sâ?”
I narrow my gaze. Not just at whatever he's implying but at whatever's been done to him. Because his words are interrupted by his coughing and his skin looks grayer than before.
I look closer.
Hulls. He really is ill.
“What'd the queen do when she interrogated you?”
He shakes his head. “I'm fiâ”
“What did that woman do?”
“Nothing. It's not from her. It's from my blocking ability trying to ward off her questions. I'll be fine once my body gets rest.”
I tug his arm to pull him down and myself up. Is he growing weaker? “Then rest while I go put a knife to her thâ”
He smiles and stops me. “Believe me, I've spent the past many hours thinking I'd like to fall asleep next to you while you angrily wield knives. Sadly”âhe brushes a strand of hair from my shoulderâ“we have too muchâ”
A few feet away Kenan jerks into a sitting position, making me jump. “Bleeding hulls!” He grabs beneath his arm where he usually
carries a blade. He swats at it a few times, then flips around to stare at us.
“Relax, Kenan,” Eogan growls.
“What happened? What did they do to us?”
“Drugged you. You'll survive.”
Kenan's scowl eases. He shifts position so he's off the bed and squatting on his haunches. “I guess that's more than I can say for them when I getâ” He stops. And squints at Eogan's gray face. “You look like litches.”
“So I hear.”
“And he's refusing to rest,” I say.
Eogan waves us off. “I slept a little when they brought me from the queen.”
“And? What'd the old hag want? She going to let us go?”
Kenan scoffs. “Of course she is. What'd she get out of you, Highness?”
“A brief history of my life, my father's life, and every opinion I've ever had on the realm of Cashlin. Whatever she saw appeased her that I've no designs on taking her kingdom.”
Kenan nods. “But we're getting out of here anyway, right?”
“About that.” I look back and forth between the two men. “I saw their city for a few moments. Eogan, they have no defenses.”
Footfalls sound beyond the door, coming down the hall. They fall in unison with the raindrops now thundering above our heads. Five, six, seven individuals by my estimation. Eogan is up and standing beside the door in a heartbeat, as is Kenan. I tighten my fist in preparation as Kenan steps back and the door opens. Myles and Isobel enter the room.
I pause at Myles's wide, sunken eyes. He looks terrible. There
are gasps from Sir Doesn't Matter and Kenan as they both jump away from Eogan.
Who for a moment is no longer Eogan but Draewulf, baring his teeth and rising to his taller, wolfish height.
Lady Isobel screeches and my hand goes out, but before I can react, I catch the shiver in the air around him.
The ripple of atmosphere . . .
It's an illusion created by Lord Myles.
“Stop!” I lunge for the guard who's lifting his wristlet and kick my leg out to clip Myles's knees. He stumbles forward and the vision of Draewulf dissipates.
“It's Myles's ability, not Eogan!” I turn to Eogan who's standing there, the rippling atmosphere gone, his normal form returned.
He's staring at me with a sickened expression.
Myles curses and wheels around, even as behind him the Luminescents concur, “It was an illusion.” They must've seen, just like Princess Rasha, that Myles's power wouldn't work on their intuitive minds.
“What in hulls is wrong with you?” Lady Isobel snarls, smacking her hand across Myles's face. “Are you trying to get us all killed?”
“It wasn't his fault.” I look at Myles, then back at Lady Isobel. “The poison's starting in.”
“Oh, of all theâ”
An odd moan cuts off Isobel's cursing, and Eogan stumbles against me.
His face has gone white as a ferret-cat and his eyes are fading fading fading to the color of death.
Before Kenan or I can catch him, he slumps to the floor.
LOOD IS POOLING.
It's on the floor around Eogan's head and jagged hair and black skin that has gone completely ashen. I drop to the ground and loosen his cloak to seek out his pulse.
. With shaky fingers, I yank open his coat and choke back a cry. Blood has seeped down to cover the right half of his tunic. I work to unlace the side with my good hand as a blend of feet converge around us, and four Luminescents are suddenly bending over. “Help me,” I growl.
Then Kenan's there too, kneeling to help loosen the tunic. When we pull it away, the young male guard overhead gasps. Bruising covers Eogan's ribs and extends up and around to where the blood's coming fromâthat slice on the back of his neck.
Oh please, no.
It's oozing deep red and glossy, and too fast for safety. I press my hands over the wound, but the amount of fluid slicking out onto the glassy floor makes me ill. How did this happen? He wasn't bleeding moments ago.
Kenan places a hand on top of mine on the cut to compress harder.
“Will he be all right?”
He doesn't answer.
I turn to the Luminescents. “What's happening to him?”
One of them invades my vision. “Miss, let us take him to another room.”
“Can you help him?”
When the woman doesn't respond, I look to Kenan.
“They blasted well better help him.” He presses me aside and slips his other arm beneath Eogan as two female guards ready their hands to assist him.
My fingers fall from the back of Eogan's neck as they pick up the king, only to feel warm blood surge. It gushes and falls in large droplets onto the shiny floor, but I don't have time to care because I'm stalking their heels as they rush him away.
We're halfway down the crystal hall when someone bumps my arm. Lady Isobel. She's accompanied by Lord Myles and the rest of the Luminescent guards. I frown and turn, but her hand on my arm slows me as she leans in with a look that has lost its amusement. “Turn yourself and Queen Laiha over to my father when he arrives,” she hisses. “And he may be inclined to spare the rest of these people along with Faelen. If not . . .” She sneers. “They're all going to die because of you.”
A crash of thunder rattles the crystalline ceiling and walls. It's the only sign I've heard her as I fling her hand off and rush after the Cashlins and Kenan carrying Eogan. Because whether or not Lady Isobel actually believes her own words, I'm not daft enough to.
The room they've taken Eogan to is less than thirty paces down the first staircase. Kenan releases Eogan to a third Cashlin right as I reach them at the doorway. We've just entered when a disturbance behind us catches Kenan's attention. He wheels around, causing me to nearly slam into him.
His expression narrows.
Is she jesting?
I turn to tell Lady Isobel to go toâ
“I'm told this one is yours.” The guard striding toward us is oozing disapproval as he holds Kel by the collar of his black-and-red Bron airship captain's uniform. “He
on being brought to you after he'd been adequately questioned.”