“Should have known,” he said, his breath coming in shorter, faster pants. “You’d love doing it like this.”
“I love…I just love doing it,” I whispered. “With you.”
His hands slid to my rear, cupping it as he rocked me harder against him. “Yeah, you do.” He squeezed, holding me tightly against him until there wasn’t a breath of space between us. “Promise me.”
All the throbbing tension in me curled tightly. I tried to lift myself but he held me in place. “Anything,” I rasped, my nails digging into his skin. “Anything, Cas.”
“If Ian is what you fear and giving him peace is something you cannot safely carry out…” he said, his words causing my already stuttering heart to skip. He dragged his hand up my back, fisting his fingers in my hair. He tugged my head to his. “Promise me that if it puts you at risk, you won’t attempt it. That you will wait until it’s safe. Promise me that.”
The words spilled from me. “I promise.”
Casteel moved at once, lifting me from his lap and onto my belly. Before I had a chance to take a breath, he thrust deeply into me. My back arched as I kicked my head back, his name a hoarse shout on my lips. He rolled into me, grinding his hips against my rear.
I cried out, and a word snuck out, a demand that scalded my cheeks. “Harder.”
“Yes.” I curled my upper body around, reaching back and clasping his hips. “Please.”
“Fuck,” he growled, and I felt him jerk deep inside me. “I love you.”
There was no chance to tell him the same. He forced an arm under me, curling it just below my breasts. His chest came down on my back, his weight supported by the arm propped by my head. Then he gave me what I wanted, thrusting into me hard.
Casteel was relentless, his body pounding against mine. We became twin flames, burning bright and uncontrollable, lost to the fire. It was a welcomed madness, the frenzy in our blood and our bodies, and it went beyond sex and finding pleasure. It was all about us taking and giving from one another, falling and letting go together, being swept away in trembling waves of rippling pleasure.
But when the tremors subsided and Casteel eased us onto our sides, my promise to him returned like a vengeful ghost, there to warn me that I might not be able to keep it.
Casteel and I dressed as the last traces of sunlight slipped over the floor, both of us donning the extra black tunics I’d packed. I did manage to eat some of the roasted chicken that had been delivered to the room, and we were able to freshen up. I took my time smoothing my hair into a braid.
Vonetta arrived shortly after, her striking features tense. “They’re here.”
“There’s just the one carriage and four guards,” Vonetta told us as we walked across the courtyard, passing the spot where Casteel and I had knelt and exchanged vows. She had her braids swept up in a tight bun, and her hand rested on the golden short sword at her hip. “The remaining Ascended have stayed back.”
“Are they Royal Knights?” Casteel asked.
Vonetta nodded as the lit torches along the wall rippled from the breeze.
Spying the Guardians on the wall, I spotted the thick, blonde braid in the moonlight. Nova stood there, two swords in hand. Beside her, another Guardian held a bow at her side. “My brother?”
“He hasn’t been seen, but we believe he remains in the carriage.”
The endless roiling of my stomach threatened to return, but I forced myself to stay calm. The last thing I needed was to start glowing.
As we neared the gates, I saw several men armed with swords and crossbows. I recognized a few as those I’d aided after the siege. They bowed as we approached. Kieran and Delano prowled out of the shadows in their wolven forms. “Did you all rest?” I asked Vonetta.
She nodded as we caught sight of her father and several other wolven. “We did. I hope you two did.”
There was a ghost of a smile on Casteel’s face, one I hoped Vonetta didn’t notice. “I’m sorry about this,” I said to her. “This stress is the last thing the people of Spessa’s End need.”
“It’s not your fault, Your Highness,” she started.
“Poppy,” I corrected her. “We’re…friends, right?” A flush crept up my neck. “I mean, I did wear your gown to my wedding, and—” I trailed off as old insecurities reared their bitchy heads. Vonetta had been nothing but kind and welcoming to me, but she was friends with Casteel, and she’d met me when I was positioned to become a Princess. And now that I was their Liessa? It felt like Tawny all over again, and I felt even more foolish. Because, seriously, this was not the time for this. “Just ignore me. I don’t even know why I’m thinking about this when there are Ascended waiting for us beyond the gate.”
“I think some would call that avoidance,” Casteel murmured.
I shot him a look of warning, and a dimple appeared.
“We’re friends,” Vonetta said, grinning. “At least, I thought we were. So I’m glad to hear you think so, too, because boy, it would’ve been awkward if not.”
Relief swept through me. “I think it’s already awkward. At least, for me,” I said as amusement radiated from the general direction of where Kieran waited. Jerk.
“Don’t worry about it.” She reached over, squeezing my arm. If she felt the weird static charge, she didn’t show it. “And don’t apologize for what is happening tonight. Everyone here knows the risks. The Ascended could come at any time. We’re prepared.”
Based on how quickly they’d come together before the Ascended attempted to overtake Spessa’s End with the Duchess, it was obvious that they truly were.
Having come down from the wall, Nova joined us. The blonde Guardian placed a fist over her heart and bowed at the waist, the moonlight glinting off the golden band around her upper arm. “What is the plan?”
Casteel glanced at me. I remained quiet because I believed she was looking for a more detailed plan beyond me not losing control of my emotions.
“Kieran and Delano will go with us,” Casteel decided. “Netta, I know you’re quick with a blade, so I want you with us. You, too, Nova.”
Both of the women nodded, and then Nova advised, “We have archers on the wall, and several wolven already beyond the gate, hidden in the woods.”
“Perfect,” Casteel replied, and I started to speak but stopped. Cas took note of it. “What?”
“I’m just…I’m curious about why you chose only Kieran and Delano in their wolven forms, and Vonetta and Nova,” I admitted, cheeks warming as I looked between the two women. “Not that I doubt you two are skilled. I know for a fact that you both are, so please don’t take my question that way. I’m just curious to understand the strategy.” And that was the truth. I wanted to know why he would approach the Ascended without the entirety of the wolven present and every armed soldier we had.
“There are two reasons,” Casteel explained as I quickly reached out with my gifts, relieved that I didn’t feel anger or irritation from Nova and Vonetta. “They don’t need to know how well-organized we are. The less they see, the better. It gives us the element of surprise if needed.”