Grief darted through Gianna as she drew in a shaky breath. “Yes, he was far too young.” She swallowed. “I planned on coming to you and the King, but I…I thought it was better if I spoke with Kieran first. To see if he thought…”
If it would be wise for her to approach me went unsaid. I could understand that concern. “Neither of us hold Alastir’s family responsible. We hold him and the others who conspired with him responsible.”
Gianna nodded, her gaze skittering to where Arden sat, and the guards waited. What went unspoken between us strained the silence to an almost painful level of awkwardness.
I decided to address that head-on like I imagined Casteel’s mother would have done. Like I knew even Queen Ileana would do. “I know that Alastir and Casteel’s father had hopes that you would marry Casteel.”
Gianna’s already large eyes widened as Arden softly grumbled. I realized then that she reminded me of one of those porcelain dolls Ileana had given me as a child. Pink infused her cheeks. “I… Okay, to be honest, I was hoping you didn’t know that.”
“Me, too,” I admitted wryly, and her lips formed a perfect oval shape. “Only because you are very beautiful and don’t resemble a barrat,” I continued, and her mouth closed. “And because I like you after just speaking with you for a few moments. I would prefer not to like the person my father-in-law wished his son had married. But here we are.”
The sugary amusement I felt now definitely came from Hisa, and I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have been so honest. But Arden and the guards were about to be entertained by even more blunt honesty. “Casteel told me that you two are friends, but that you had never shown any inclination towards being interested in marrying him. Is that true?”
It took Gianna a moment to respond. “I am sure few wouldn’t be honored to be married to him,” she began, and I started to feel my chest hum. “And, yes, we are friends—or we were. I haven’t seen him in ages.” Her brows knitted. “I’m not sure if he will even recognize me.”
That was highly unlikely.
“But it wasn’t like that between us,” she continued. “At least, it didn’t feel that way, and he…he was engaged to Shea, and that just kind of weirded me out.”
The vibration settled. “Then we are in agreement about the latter.”
Relief started to seep through her. “I have no feelings for your husband,” she said. “Not before, and definitely not now.”
“Good.” I met her gaze, smiling. “Because if you did, I would probably tear you apart, limb by limb, and then feed what remained to a pack of hungry barrats,” I said. “Now, would you like to find Kieran? I think I remember which room he’s in.”
“I met Gianna today,” I announced later that evening as we took our seats in the State Room.
Casteel choked on his drink as Kieran took his seat beside us, the latter attempting and failing to hide a smile.
“She is quite beautiful,” I said, watching the door. Very few would be joining us tonight, but at the moment, only Hisa and Delano stood at the entrance. “Something you failed to mention.”
Setting his drink down, he looked over at me. “It’s something I’ve forgotten if it is true.”
I hid my smile as I took a sip of my wine. “She is very nice, though.”
Casteel eyed me. “What did you talk about?”
“She apologized for Alastir, and I told her she and her family had nothing to apologize for,” I told him. “And then I told her that I knew about Alastir’s and your father’s plans.”
“That is not all you said.”
I shot Kieran a look. “How do you know?” I demanded. When we ended up finding Kieran and his sister, nothing of my conversation with Gianna had been mentioned. I also hadn’t lingered long afterwards, and I seriously doubted that Gianna would’ve repeated what I said.
“How do you think?” Kieran remarked. “Arden couldn’t wait to tell everyone and anyone who would listen, what you said.”
“What else did you say?” Casteel asked.
I lifted my shoulders. “Nothing, really. Just that if she had any interest in you, I would…”
Casteel dipped his head closer to mine. “What?”
My lips pursed. “I might’ve said something like I’d tear her apart limb by limb and feed her to barrats.”
He stared at me.
I sighed. “It wasn’t one of my finer moments, I admit.”
“Damn.” Casteel broke the silence, his gaze the shade of heated honey. “I wish we weren’t about to have this meeting because I really want to fuck you on this table right now.”
My eyes widened.
“Gods,” Kieran muttered, sitting back as he dragged a hand over his face.
“Is everything fine?” Casteel’s mother asked as she strode into the room, his father beside her.
My face heated as Casteel dragged his gaze from mine. “Everything is delightfully perfect,” he told them, sitting back in his chair.
I turned to Kieran and whispered, “Thanks for that.”
A closed-lip smile appeared. “You’re welcome.”
Resisting the urge to punch him, I looked over as Hisa closed the doors. Lord Sven and Lady Cambria had joined us, along with Emil, Delano, and Vonetta. Lyra, in her mortal form, had also come in, along with Naill. In the last several days, I’d learned that both Sven and Cambria assisted with the security of the kingdom and held positions within the Atlantian armies. No other Elder was present.
It was Kieran who spoke once Hisa had taken her seat on his other side. “We’re all set to leave for Oak Ambler tomorrow,” he announced. “A small group will travel with the King and Queen. It will just be Delano and me.”
Valyn inhaled deeply as he sat back in his chair. “That is not nearly enough.”
“I have to agree,” Hisa spoke up. “You will be entering Solis, meeting with the Blood Crown. It is unlikely that their armies will not have a substantial presence. Four of you is not nearly enough if something were to go wrong.”
“It’s not,” Casteel agreed. “But that is just one group.”
Hisa raised a brow. “I’m listening.”
“They will be expecting us to arrive via horse,” Kieran said. “Entering through the eastern gates of the Rise, but we don’t want to do what they expect.”
“That’s where you will come in,” I said. “You, along with Emil, Vonetta, and Lyra will leave in the morning, taking a small contingent of guards with you to arrive at the eastern gates. They have to expect that we would not come without some sort of convoy, even if they remain outside the Rise.”
Hisa nodded. “And you all?”
“We will travel by sea.” Kieran glanced at Sven. “Thanks to you, we have a ship.”
Sven smiled. “More like thanks to my son, who is currently loading several crates of wine—well, mostly wine bottles full of water and horse piss,” he said, and my lip curled. “We aren’t going to just give the Blood Crown several hundred bottles of our wine.”