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628 pages, ebook
First published March 15, 2022
“The pain was more than worth it. I would spend an eternity taking these bites if that meant she was safe. That it wasn’t her in this cell. That she wasn’t the one in pain.”
We can’t save everyone, Kieran reminded me. But we can save the ones we love.
“Whether she ruled over all the lands and seas or was the Queen of nothing but a pile of ashes and bones, she would—will—always be my Queen. Love is too weak an emotion to describe how she consumes me and what I feel for her. She is my everything.”
“Don’t forget what he means to me, Poppy. I’ve known him my whole damn life,” he said. “We shared the same crib more times than not. We took our first steps together. Sat at the same table most nights, refusing to eat the same vegetables We explored tunnels and lakes, pretended that fields were new, undiscovered kingdoms. We were inseparable. And that didn’t change as we grew older.” His voice roughened, and he dropped his forehead to mind. “He was and still is a part of me.”
I reached over, clasping his shoulder. “We are not brothers of the same blood. We are not friends due to some bond,” I told him, and his gaze met mine. “We are not loyal to each other because of courtesy or tradition or title. We have always been above all that. And, in a lot of ways, we’re two halves of the same whole. Different than Poppy and me, but not that much different. You know that.”
I shot him a glare. ”Would you like to help, or do you just want to stand there and watch me get yelled at by an old woman?”
“Is there a third option?”
My eyes narrowed.
Emotions clogged my throat, and I didn’t know if it belonged to them, me, or if it was a combination of all of us.
“I fought the urge to ask him what kind of love he felt for Casteel. For me. I knew it wasn’t a familial one and that it went beyond what one felt for friends. I also thought that it wasn’t the same as what he’d felt for Elashya or what Casteel and I felt for each other. But I also knew that what I felt for Kieran wasn’t the same as what I felt for Delano or Vonetta or Tawny. It was…more.”
“Nothing and everything had changed between the three of us since the Joining. Our relationship remained as it had been, but there was an intimacy now that hadn’t been there before. A closeness. A bond we were reminded of every time I felt our hearts beating in tandem.”
Seeing Reaver in his mortal form was already an utterly unexpected experience. But seeing him completely, absolutely naked whilst crouched on a pillar took the oddness of the situation to a whole new level.
Casteel's eyes narrowed. "And can you please stop giving Kieran the middle finger?"
"I was actually giving it to everyone, but whatever." Slowly, Reaver lowered his middle finger.
”You’re just saying nonsense. You both are nearly the same height and size,” I said.
“I believe your vision could use improvement,” the draken responded, and I rolled my eyes.
“You could use an attitude improvement,” Kieran retorted.
“I ate a lot of ham,” I announced to Kieran before Reaver could fire back another barb. Both males looked at me. “A lot. You’d be proud.”
“While I’m glad to hear that,” Kieran began, “that was a little random, Poppy.”
“I get it. Kieran almost stepped on your tail.” I turned to the wolven. “Reaver almost bit your hand. Stop whining and get over it.”
“He almost stepped on my entire leg,” Reaver corrected. “Not my tail.”
“And he almost bit my arm off.” Kieran’s eyes narrowed. “Not my hand.”
I stared at them. “You two are… I don’t even know.”
“What…what kind of love do you feel?” He studied me until I almost started squirming in the chair. “There are many kinds of love, but when it comes to you, it’s the kind that allowed me to make that—” He inhaled sharply, his jaw hardening. “It’s the kind of love that allowed me to make that promise to you, Poppy. It’s the same kind of love that allowed you to ask that of me.”
“From the first moment I saw you smile… And heard you laugh? Gods,” I rasped, and she shuddered, her beautiful eyes closing. “From the first time I saw you nock an arrow and fire without hesitation? Handle a dagger and fight beside another? Fight me? I was in awe. I’m never not in awe of you. I’m always utterly mesmerized. I’ll never stop being that. Always and forever.”
“I don’t know what I should call you. Queen? Highness? Neither seems fitting.” “Poppy,” I whispered. “Call me Poppy.” He bent his head, brushing his lips over the bridge of my nose as his mouth neared my ear. “I’ll call you whatever you like, as long as you call me yours.” I let out a short laugh and felt Casteel’s smile against my cheek. He’d successfully pulled me back from the edge of a panic spiral.
Reaver made a gagging sound. “Did he seriously just say that?”
“Unfortunately,” Kieran muttered.