But into what? I hoped he or someone could answer. “I can put my own shoes on.”
“I know. But it makes me feel useful. Let me be useful, please.”
“Only because you said, ‘please,’” I murmured, lifting my leg.
He sent me a quick grin. “How are you feeling? Honestly? And I’m not talking about just physically.”
I held still as he slid the shaft of the boot up. “I…I’m okay,” I said, staring at the dark locks on his bowed head. “It’s just a bit weird because I…I feel the same. I don’t feel like anything has changed. I mean, maybe nothing really changed?” I said. “Maybe you just healed me—”
“I didn’t just heal you, Poppy.” He looked up at me as he tugged the boot into place. “Your heart stopped. If I had been a second or two too slow, you would’ve passed on.” His gaze held mine as my stomach dipped. “You don’t feel the same.”
I gripped the edge of the chair. “I really don’t understand what that means. I feel the same.”
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a combination of scent and instinct.” He placed his hands on my knees. “When I touch you, I recognize the feel of your skin in my soul and in my heart. You are still Poppy, but I don’t sense mortal blood in your veins, and you no longer feel the same on an instinctual level.”
“Oh,” I whispered.
He stared at me for a moment. “Is that all you really have to say to that?”
“It’s all I can come up with now.”
His gaze searched mine as he nodded. “I can’t even begin to imagine all the things that must be racing through your mind right now.”
I coughed out a dry laugh. “So much. Some of it I can sort of table for later to freak out over. But…”
“What?” Casteel prodded quietly.
I opened my mouth, then closed it, and then tried again. A part of me still wanted to remain quiet, to not bring up King Malec, but I…I didn’t want anything unspoken to linger between us. Not after what had happened. Not after what he’d risked for me. Not after we’d come so close to losing each other.
And even if what I had to say shocked him, I couldn’t believe that it would drive a wedge between us. We were…together. We were too strong for that.
My grip tightened on the edge of the chair. “Did Alastir say anything to you when you caught up with him? About me? Other than the whole I’m-a-danger-to-Atlantia thing—which I’m sure he said.”
“He said some things,” he told me. “But there wasn’t a lot of time, nor was I in the mood to listen to much beyond what I needed to know to find you.” He squeezed my knees. “Why?”
I swallowed thickly. “He told me that I was descended from Nyktos and that I…I’m also descended from King Malec.”
No wave of shock or horror radiated off Casteel as he stared at me. “He said as much to me, too.”
“He did?” When Casteel nodded, I asked, “And that doesn’t bother you?”
His brows lowered. “Why would that bother me?”
“Why?” I repeated, a little dumbfounded. “He was the one who created the first vampry. He betrayed your mother—”
“Yeah, he did those things. Not you.” He slid his hands off my knees and placed them over mine. Slowly, he pried my fingers loose. “We don’t even know if that’s true.”
“He said that Malec’s abilities were a lot like mine—that he could heal with his touch and use his abilities to hurt people without even touching them,” I said.
“I’ve never heard that.” Casteel threaded his fingers through mine.
“He said that only a few people knew what he was truly capable of. That your parents did.”
“Then we need them to confirm it.”
I tensed. “Your mother—”
“My mother will not hold who you are descended from against you,” he interrupted. “It may be a shock to her. It may even make her think of things she has worked to forget, but she will not hold you responsible for what someone distantly related to you did.”
I wanted so badly to believe that. And maybe he was right. He knew his mother, but how she’d stared at me when she first saw me kept replaying in my head as well as what she’d said. But that could’ve just been shock. “Why haven’t you said anything about that?”
“Because I honestly didn’t think it mattered,” he said, and the sincerity of his words tasted like vanilla. “I had no idea if he said it to you or if it’s true. To be honest, it doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t explain your abilities or how strong they are, as far as I know. Just because you share similar gifts doesn’t mean that you are descended from him.”
Rising, he pulled me from the chair and then looped his arms around my waist. “But even if you do share his bloodline, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change you.” His eyes were a bright amber as he looked down at me. “Did you really think it would bother me?”
“I didn’t think it would come between us,” I admitted. “I just…I don’t want to be related to him. I don’t want to make your mother uncomfortable more than I already have and am going to.”
“I can understand that, but you know what?” He dropped his forehead to mine. “I’m not worried about how she’ll feel. I’m concerned about you—about everything that has happened to you. You have been so damn strong. You were attacked, taken captive, and then you almost lost your life.” He placed a hand against my cheek, just over the scars there. “We have no idea why you haven’t Ascended, or if you did and we just don’t know into what yet. And, on top of all of that, you have had one shock after another—from learning the truth about the Ascended, to fearing for your brother and Tawny, to now learning that you have god’s blood in you.
“Well, when you list it all out like that, I think I may need to sit down,” I commented.
He kissed the bridge of my nose. “But you’re not. You’re standing. You’re dealing with it, and fuck if I’m not in awe of you right now. But I also know none of this has hit you yet, and that concerns me. You keep telling me you’re okay every time I ask how you are, and I know that can’t be true.”
“I am okay.” Mostly. I rested my cheek against his chest. I needed to be okay because none of what had happened from the moment I stepped into the Chambers of Nyktos changed the fact that we needed to find his brother and mine—
I jerked back, my eyes going wide. “Oh, my gods. I haven’t even thought about this.” Hope exploded deep inside me, loosening tense muscles. “If I didn’t become a vampry, then that means Ian might not have, either. He could be like me. What I am. He might not be like them.”
Wariness echoed through Casteel. “That’s possible, Poppy,” he began, his tone cautious. “But he’s only been seen at night. And he’s married to an Ascended.”
The rest of what he wouldn’t say hung unspoken in the air of the dusty hunting cabin. Ian may not be my brother by blood, or we may not share the same parent that carried the eather within them. I didn’t know. But just because Casteel hadn’t seen Ian during the day or just because he was married to an Ascended didn’t mean that Ian had become one. The hope I felt now wasn’t nearly as flimsy and naïve as it had been a week ago, and that was something to hold onto.