“It’s what some would call magic,” Casteel answered, shifting his stance as if he were blocking his mother from me. “You’ve seen it before.”
He nodded. “It’s the essence of the gods, what’s in their blood, what gives them their abilities and the power to create all that they have. No one really calls it that anymore, not since the gods went to sleep, and the deities died off.” His eyes searched mine. “I should have known. Gods, I should’ve seen it…”
“You can say that now,” his mother spoke. “But why would you have even thought that this would be a possibility? No one would’ve expected this.”
“Except for you,” Casteel said. And he was right. She’d known, without a doubt. And, granted, I had been glowing upon her arrival, but she’d known with unquestioned certainty.
“I can explain,” she said as Emil appeared, carrying two saddlebags. He gave all of us a wide berth as he dropped them near Jasper and then backed away.
“Apparently, a lot needs to be explained,” Casteel remarked coolly. “But it will have to wait.” His gaze touched on my left cheek, and that muscle throbbed along his jaw again. “I need to get you somewhere safe where I can… Where I can take care of you.”
“You can take her to your old rooms at my place,” Jasper announced, startling me. I hadn’t even heard him shift. I started to look over at him but saw skin as he reached for the saddlebag.
“That will do.” Casteel took what appeared to be a pair of breeches from Jasper. “Thank you.”
“Will it be safe for you there?” I asked, and a wry grin tugged at Casteel’s lips.
“He’ll be safe there,” Kieran answered.
So shocked by the sound of Kieran’s voice, I turned. And didn’t stop. There was a whole lot of tawny skin on display, but he stood there like he wasn’t naked in front of all who remained. For once, I really had no problem ignoring the fact that he was nude. I looked at his eyes. They were normal—a vivid, striking blue without the silvery-white aura. “You were going to attack Casteel.”
Kieran nodded as he took the pants from Casteel.
“He most definitely was,” Casteel confirmed.
I looked back at my husband. “And you threatened to destroy him.”
The dimple in his left cheek appeared again. “I did.”
“Why are you smiling? That isn’t something that should make you smile.” I stared at him, stupid tears burning my eyes. I didn’t care that we had an audience. “That can never happen again. Do you hear me?” I twisted to Kieran, who arched a brow as he pulled his breeches up over his lean hips. “Do you both hear me? I won’t allow it. I won’t—”
“Shh.” Casteel’s light touch to my cheek drew my gaze back to his as he stepped into me. He was close enough that his chest brushed mine with each breath. “It won’t happen again, Poppy.” His thumb quickly swiped under my left eye. “Right?”
“Right.” Kieran cleared his throat. “I don’t…” He fell quiet.
His father didn’t. “As long as the Prince doesn’t give any of us a reason to behave differently, we will protect him as fiercely as we will protect you.”
We. As in the entirety of the wolven race. That’s what Alastir had meant when he’d said that all the bonds had broken. I had a lot of questions, but I plopped my head on Casteel’s chest. It didn’t feel that great, sending a flare of pain across my head. I didn’t care because when I inhaled, all I smelled was lush spice and pine. Casteel carefully folded an arm around my upper back, and I thought… I thought I felt him shudder against me.
“Wait,” Kieran said. “Where is Beckett? He was with you when you walked off.”
Casteel drew back slightly. “That’s right. He offered to show you the Temple.” His eyes narrowed as he stared down at me. “He led you here.”
A wave of goosebumps pimpled my skin. Beckett. Pressure clamped down on my chest, squeezing tightly as I thought of the young wolven who’d spent the vast majority of the trip here chasing butterflies. I still couldn’t believe that he had led me here, knowing what awaited. But I remembered the bitter taste of his fear that day in Spessa’s End. He’d been terrified of me.
Or had he been terrified of something else?
His emotions had been all over the place. He’d gone from being normal around me, happy and grinning, to suddenly afraid and anxious, as he had been when he brought me up here.
“He disappeared before the others showed up,” I told Casteel. “I don’t know where he went.”
“Find Beckett,” he ordered, and Delano, still in his wolven form, tilted his head. “Naill? Emil? Go with him. Make sure Beckett is brought to me alive.”
Both Atlantians nodded and bowed. Nothing about Casteel’s tone suggested that the alive part was a good thing. “He’s just a kid.” I watched Delano rush off, quickly disappearing with Naill and Emil. “He was scared. And now that I think about it—”
“Poppy.” Casteel placed the tips of his fingers against my cheek, just below a spot that ached. He dipped his head, brushing his lips over the cut. “I have two things to say. If Beckett had anything to do with this, I don’t care what or who he is, and I sure as fuck don’t care about what he was feeling.” His voice rose until all who remained at the Temple could hear him, including his parents.
“A move against my wife is a proclamation of war against me. Their fate is already sealed. And, secondly?” He lowered his head even farther. This time, his lips brushed over mine in a featherlight kiss. I could barely feel it, but it somehow still managed to twist my insides into knots. He then lifted his head, and I saw it in his features—the stark stillness of a predator locking onto its prey. I’d seen it before, right before he’d torn out Landell’s heart back in New Haven.
Casteel turned his head to the side, looking at the only wolven who remained, now standing on two legs. “You.”
Alastir Davenwell was Casteel’s parents’ advisor. And when King Malec had Ascended his mistress, Isbeth, it was Alastir who had alerted Queen Eloana, breaking the bond between him and the now exiled—most likely dead—King. Only the gods knew how many Atlantians Alastir had saved throughout the years by helping them escape Solis and the Ascended, who used their blood to make more vamprys.
Who knew how different things would’ve turned out for my family if they had found Alastir? They could still be alive, living a happy and whole life in Atlantia. And my brother Ian would be there, too. Instead, he was in Carsodonia and was likely now one of them—an Ascended.
I swallowed hard, shoving those thoughts aside. Now was not the time for that. I liked Alastir. He had been kind to me from the beginning. But more importantly, I knew that Casteel respected and cared for the wolven. If Alastir had played a role in this, it would cut Casteel deeply.
Honestly, I hoped that neither Alastir nor Beckett had had anything to do with this, but I had long stopped believing in coincidences. And the night the Ascended had arrived at Spessa’s End? I had realized something about Alastir that hadn’t sat well with me. It had fallen to the wayside when the Ascended arrived and with everything that had happened afterward, but it took center stage once more.