He said this like it was the answer to how we had gone from me stabbing him in the heart to tearing off each other’s clothes. I shivered in the cold, damp air as I shook my head again.
Being drawn to one another explained none of that.
“You’re cold.” Rolling to his feet in one smooth movement, he fastened his pants with the one lone button that remained and then extended his hand. “We need to get out of this weather.”
We did. Well, I did. He probably didn’t, considering he could be stabbed in the chest and be all right minutes later.
I placed my hand in his and stated what I felt he needed to be reminded of. “I tried to kill you.”
“I know.” He pulled me up onto my feet. “I can’t really blame you.”
I stared, dumbfounded as he swooped down, tugging up my breeches as he rose. “You don’t?”
“No. I lied to you. I betrayed you and played a role in the deaths of people you love,” he said, listing the reasons as if it were a shopping list. “I’m surprised that was the first time you tried.”
I continued to stare.
“And I doubt it will be the last time you try.” The corners of his lips turned down as he tried to secure the pants but discovered that the buttons were somewhere on the snowy ground. “Dammit,” he muttered, reaching for my shirt. It was torn straight down the middle. He gripped the sides and pulled them together as if that would repair the material. He cursed again, giving up. He reached up, pulling his other shirt off over his head. “Here.”
I stood there, wondering if I was suffering from blood loss or post-orgasmic bliss. Maybe a combination of both because I couldn’t believe this. “You’re…not mad?”
He lifted a brow as his gaze met mine. “Are you not still mad at me?”
I didn’t have to think about that. “Yes. I’m still angry.”
“And I’m still angry that you stabbed me in the chest.” He stepped toward me. “Lift your arms.”
I lifted my arms.
“You didn’t miss my heart, by the way. You got it pretty good,” he continued, pulling his shirt on over my head, tugging it down over my stiff arms. “That’s why it took a minute to catch up to you.”
“It took more than a minute.” My voice was muffled as my head got caught for a moment in his shirt before popping free.
One side of his lip kicked up as he tugged the other sleeve down. “It took a couple of minutes.”
I looked down at the shirt and saw the jagged tear on the front. It didn’t line up with my chest, but with my stomach. My gaze went to his bare chest. There was a wound, the skin pink and torn around it. Stomach churning, I gave a shake of my head. “Will it heal?”
“It will be fine in a few hours. Probably sooner.”
“Atlantian blood,” I whispered and swallowed thickly.
“My body will immediately start to repair itself from any non-fatal wounds,” he explained. “And I fed. That helped.”
My hand fluttered to my throat, to the two tiny wounds that felt as if they’d already started to heal. A faint spike of pleasure pulsed through me. I jerked my hand away. “Will anything happen to me from…from you feeding?”
“No, Poppy. I didn’t take enough, and you didn’t take enough of mine earlier. You’ll probably be a little tired later, but that’s all.”
I went back to staring at his wound. “Does it hurt?”
“Barely,” he muttered.
I didn’t believe him. Placing my palm against his chest, a few inches from the wound, I tried to tap into my gift. I felt it stretching, so I opened up my senses. He became very still. The anguish I always felt was there, heightened and stronger than before, even though he’d gotten control of it at some point. It no longer overwhelmed him, but there was a different kind of pain underneath it. It was hot. Physical pain. The wound might heal, but it hurt, and it wasn’t minor.
I did what I could without thinking once more. I took his pain, both of them, and I didn’t think of the beaches of the Stroud Sea this time. I thought about how I felt when he was in me, moving inside me.
And all of that did nothing but confuse me even more.
He placed his hand over mine, and when I glanced up, I saw that the lines of white tension around his mouth had vanished. There was wonder in his eyes. “I should’ve known then.” He brought my hand stained with our blood to his mouth and pressed a kiss to my knuckles.
“Known what?” I asked, trying to ignore how the act tugged at my heart.
“Known why they wanted you so badly that they made you the Maiden.”
I wasn’t exactly following what he was saying, but that could’ve had more to do with my fog-filled brain than anything.
“Come.” He tugged on my hand and started walking.
“Where are we going?”
“Now? We’re going back inside so we can get cleaned up and…” He trailed off with a sigh as he noticed that I was clutching the side of my pants to keep them up. Before I even knew what he was about, he picked me up and held me in his arms, against his chest, like I weighed nothing more than a soaked kitten. “And, apparently, to find you some new pants.”
“These were my only pair.”
“I’ll get you new ones.” He strode forward. “I’m sure there is some small child around here who would be willing to part with their breeches for a few coins.”
My brows puckered.
His mouth was soft, and a faint grin played across his lips as he stepped around a fallen limb.
“And after that?” I asked.
“I’m taking you home.”
My heart about stopped for the hundredth time that day. “Home?” I hadn’t expected him to say that. “Back to Masadonia? Or to Carsodonia?”
“Neither.” He looked down, his eyes a wealth of secrets. He smiled then, a wide one that stole my breath. He did indeed have two dimples, one in each cheek, and I saw then why there’d only been half-grins before. I saw the two fine points of his canines. “I’m taking you to Atlantia.”
I was deposited in the same room where he’d given me his blood, and then I’d stabbed him. Him. I stared at the damp mark on the wood floor, where the blood had been cleaned up.
I needed to stop referring to him that way. He had a name. A real one. I may never say it when and how he wanted, but I needed to stop thinking about him as if he were Hawke or somehow nameless.
His name was Casteel. Cas.
This was where he had saved my life and the chamber where I then attempted to take his.
My gaze flicked to where Kieran stood by the door, eyeing me as if he expected me to make a rush for the window and throw myself out of it. He arched a brow at me, and I looked away.
He had left, to do the gods only knew what, leaving Kieran as a sentry. Well, I did know he’d done something. After he’d left, a dozen or so servants filled the brass tub in the bathing chamber with steaming hot water, and another placed a fresh pair of black breeches and a tunic on the bed.
A part of me was surprised that he’d brought me back here and not to the cells. I wasn’t sure what that meant or if it should matter if it did mean something.
My thoughts still reeling from everything, I didn’t know anything at the moment, and he hadn’t answered any of the questions I’d asked on the way back. Say, for example, was Atlantia still an actual place?
Because as far as I knew, it had been all but leveled during the war.
Then again, everything I thought I knew was turning out to be false.
I rubbed my hand over my cheek as I glanced at Kieran. “Does Atlantia still exist?”
If my random question caught him off guard, he didn’t show it. “Why would it not?”
“I was told that the Wastelands—”
“Were once Atlantia?” he cut in. “They were once an outpost, but that land was never the entirety of the kingdom.”
“So, Atlantia still exists?”
“Have you ever been beyond the Skotos Mountains?”
The corners of my lips turned down. “Do you always answer a question with a question?”
I shot him a droll look.
A faint grin appeared and then slipped away.
“No one has been beyond the Skotos Mountains,” I told him. “It’s just more mountains.”
“Mountains that stretch so far and wide that the very tops are lost to the deepest mist? That part is true, but the mountains don’t go on forever, Penellaphe, and the mist there may not contain Craven, but it’s also not natural,” he said, and a shiver danced over my shoulders. “The mist is a protection.”
“It’s so thick, you just don’t see anything. You think you see everything.” A strange light filled his pale blue eyes. “The mist that blankets the Skotos Mountains is there so anyone who dares pass through will want to turn back.”
“And those who don’t turn back?”
“They don’t make it through.”
“Because...because Atlantia is beyond the Skotos?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
What I thought was that talking to Kieran was an exercise in patience and energy, two things I was running low on.
“Are you going to bathe yourself?” he asked.
I wanted to. My skin was not just dirty, it was also chilled, and I was still wearing his bloodied shirt.
But I also wanted to be difficult because I was so freaking confused by everything, and as he had warned, I was tired. “What if I don’t?”
“That’s your choice,” he replied. “But you smell of Casteel.”
I jolted at the sound of his name. His real name. “I am wearing his shirt.”
“That’s not the kind of smell I’m talking about.”
It took a minute for me to get what he was referencing. When I did, my mouth dropped open. “You can smell…?”