“Don’t apologize,” he told me. “None of what happened was your fault, Poppy. I just…I can’t feel that again.”
“I don’t want you to.” I stepped in close to him, and he slid his arms around me. “And I didn’t mean to make you feel that again.”
“I know.” He kissed my temple. “I know. Let’s just sit. Okay?” He led me back to the bed.
I sat while he bent, picking up his breeches. I bit down on my lip as I watched him pull them up, leaving the flap unbuttoned. They hung indecently low on his waist as he turned. There was another chair in the room, a wooden one, and I saw a small lump of clothing there.
“Jasper found some clothing and boots he thought you could wear. It’s a slip, a pair of breeches, and a sweater. I honestly don’t know where he found them, and I’m not quite sure I want to know.” He brought the slip to me and a dark brown sweater. “But they’re clean.”
“Where are we?” I asked as he motioned for me to lift my arms. I did as he requested. “We were in…Irelone, right? That’s where they took me?”
In the dim light, I saw a muscle flex in his jaw as he lowered the slip over my head. The cloth was soft and smelled of fresh air. “We’re no longer in Irelone or the Wastelands. We’re in the Skotos foothills. This is an old hunting cabin we sometimes use when we’re traveling in and out of the Skotos. We’re actually not too far from Spessa’s End, but we didn’t want to…”
Casteel didn’t finish what he was saying as I rose to my knees and let the slip slide into place. I knew what he was thinking. They didn’t want to take me into Spessa’s End, just in case I had Ascended and became uncontrollable.
Still utterly dumbfounded by the fact that I was alive and wasn’t a vampry, I said nothing as he tugged the thick sweater on over my head. It was a little scratchy but warm. I lifted the collar, giving it a small sniff. The garment smelled a little of woodsmoke, but for some reason, I thought it also smelled of…lilacs.
Looking up, I found Casteel watching me with a raised brow as he finally buttoned the flap on his breeches. I dropped the sweater. “When you gave me your blood the very first time in New Haven, I think…I think I saw your memories. Or felt your emotions. I smelled lilacs then, and I smelled them again,” I told him, thinking of the flowers that drenched the cavern in Spessa’s End. “Were you thinking of when we were married when I…when I drank your blood this time?”
“How did I see your memories, though? Before and now? That’s not the same as reading emotions.”
“It can happen when two Atlantians feed.” He dipped his head, brushing his lips over my brow. “Each can pick up on memories. I think that’s what happened.”
I thought about the first time in New Haven. He’d stopped me just as I reached his memories.
He hadn’t stopped me this time.
“Could you read any of mine?” I wondered.
“I’ve never fed from you long enough to try,” he answered, and I felt a strange little tumble of anticipation. “But right now, I wish I knew what you were thinking.”
“I was thinking…” I drew in a deep breath. Gods, I was thinking about everything. My thoughts bounced from one event, one conversation to another. “Do you know what I did in the Chambers? After…after you were attacked?”
He sat beside me. “I heard.”
I lowered my hands to where the sweater pooled in my lap. They looked normal. “When we were in the Chambers of Nyktos and that arrow struck you, and your body turned cold and gray, I thought you died. I didn’t think I would be okay again. I forgot about the imprint,” I admitted, turning my hand over. There it was, the golden swirl glimmering softly. “I kind of…I don’t know. I lost it.”
“You defended yourself,” he corrected. “That’s what you did.”
I nodded, still staring at the imprint as my mind skipped from the Temple to the crypts, to Alastir so confident that I would be just as chaotically violent as the ancient ones.
“I know a lot has happened,” Casteel said, gently catching a strand of my hair and tucking it behind my ear. “And I know things are confusing as fuck right now, but do you think you can tell me what happened? I know some things,” he told me. “I was able to get some information out of Alastir and the others by using compulsion, but it’s not like it’s a truth serum or I can force them into telling me everything. I have to be exact in what I ask, and I was mostly concerned about finding you and who else could be involved. So, I want to hear it from you. I think that is the only way we can begin to figure out what has happened here, tackling everything one step at a time.”
Dragging my gaze from my hands, I looked over at him. “I can tell you.”
He smiled at me as he touched my cheek. “You okay with me bringing Kieran in? He will need to hear this information.”
Casteel kissed where his fingers had touched seconds before and then rose, walking to the door as my gaze returned to my hands. Only a handful of moments passed before Kieran slipped back into the room. I peeked at him, tentatively reaching out with my senses as he stared at me and approached the bed. I didn’t know what I expected to feel from him, but all I felt was the heaviness of concern and a freshness that reminded me of spring air. Relief.
Kieran knelt in front of me as Casteel returned to sit beside me. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay, and a little confused,” I admitted. “I have a lot of questions.”
One side of the wolven’s lips tipped up. “I’m so shocked,” he murmured, pale eyes gleaming with amusement.
“I’m sorry for trying to eat you.” I felt my cheeks warm.
Kieran smiled then. “It’s okay.”
“Told you he wouldn’t hold it against you,” Casteel said.
“Wouldn’t be the first time a hungry Atlantian tried to eat me,” Kieran said, and my brows lifted. I now had more questions, but a memory surged through me.
When I woke, I’d been too lost to the bloodlust to realize that I hadn’t been covered in blood. And I should’ve been. There had been so much blood from the wound. “You cleaned me, didn’t you? You wiped away the blood.”
“It didn’t feel right letting either of you lay in your blood,” he said with a shrug as if the act was nothing. “I didn’t want either of you seeing that when you woke up.”
Emotion clogged my throat as I stared at Kieran. I reacted without much thought, pitching forward. I didn’t know if he sensed what I was about to do or if he was worried that I was about to attempt to rip his throat out again, but he caught me without falling over, even though he did wobble a bit. He folded his arms around me without a heartbeat of hesitation, holding me just as tightly as I held him. I felt Casteel’s hand on my lower back, just under Kieran’s arms, and the three of us stayed like that for a little while. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“You don’t need to thank me for that.” He dragged a hand up to the back of my head and leaned away enough that his gaze met mine. “It was the least I could do.”