The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 53

I realized what Casteel was getting at. The dark, wicked kiss of our kind. But my mind got stuck on the bestowing the kiss in the most scandalous locations part. Casteel hadn’t bitten me in that very scandalous location in the shower, but he’d drawn blood.

“I do believe that Miss Willa was either Atlantian or of Atlantian descent. Perhaps even one of another bloodline,” he noted. “I wonder if she still lives. If so, I also wonder if she’s planning for a volume two.” He paused. “You look very flushed, Poppy. Was it the wicked bite part? Or would you like to hear more about Andre?” He glanced back at the journal. “‘While partygoers celebrated the birthday of some young lady, Andre coaxed me out into the gardens, where he and his confidant, Torro, celebrated me.’”

I bit down on the inside of my lip, words fizzling out on the tip of my tongue. They…celebrated her? They?

Casteel continued, “‘Torro took me from behind, his thick hardness already taking me to bliss while Andre knelt before me, his mouth closing over my—’”

“That’s enough.” I shot forward, snatching the book from his hands. I got the book but didn’t make it very far.

Casteel folded an arm around my waist, pinning me and the journal to his chest. “You shouldn’t have stopped me there.” His eyes warmed. “Miss Willa was in for a very exciting evening in that garden. They were about to be joined by one not-very-innocent Lady.”

“I don’t care—wait.” Curiosity got the best of me. “What? The…the four of them? Together?”

He grinned as his other hand slid down my back. “Oh, yes.” His palm glided over my rear, which had become exposed in my rush to grab the journal. He cupped the flesh, sending a shivery wave of awareness through me. “Four of them. Together. Lots of manhoods. Lots of scandalous lady parts.”

“Lady parts?” I choked on a laugh.

He nodded as he dragged the edge of his teeth over his bottom lip. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel…uncomfortably curious,” I admitted. I had questions. Like how did that even work?

Casteel’s brows flew up. His surprise was like a burst of cool wind on my skin, and then something spicy and lush landed on the tip of my tongue. “Poppy,” he purred, his eyes deepening to a warm honey color. “I was talking about how you felt after getting some sleep.”

“Oh.” Heat swept through my entire body. Scrunching my nose, I planted my face in his chest. “I feel fine.” And embarrassed.

His laugh rumbled through me as his arms tightened. “I’m glad to hear that. I’m glad to hear both of those things.”

“Oh, my gods,” I muttered. “Please forget that I said I was curious.”


“I dislike you.”

“That’s a lie.”

“I know.”

Another deep laugh came from him, and I smiled because I loved that sound. How deep and real it was. “We’ll talk about your uncomfortable curiosity in great detail later, but you need to get off me and change into something that makes it less easy for my manhood to find its way to your lady parts.”

I lifted my head from his chest. “You’re holding me to you.”

“True.” His arm eased off me, and I started to rise when he lightly smacked my rear. I let out a little squeak, and those damn dimples appeared in both of his cheeks.

I stared down at him. “That was very inappropriate.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” He didn’t feel even a hint of shame.

Still flushing to the roots of my hair, I started to move but stopped. Tension crept into my muscles, a contrasting mixture of reluctance and determination.

“What?” Casteel’s gaze searched mine. “What is it?”

“I…” It was hard to explain what I felt. It was a mixture of several things. I shifted onto my knees between his legs. “I almost don’t want to leave the bed. Things…everything feels different here. Like nothing outside of this place exists or matters. And I know…” I looked over to the latticed door, to the night beyond. “I know when I do, I’ll have to face all the things that do matter.” My gaze fell to the journal I held against my chest. “That probably makes me sound like an immature child.”

“No. Not at all. I get what you’re feeling.” He folded his fingers under my chin, lifting my gaze to his. “When Malik and I went to the caverns, it was our way of escaping.”

“What were you two escaping?” I asked. He’d never expounded on that.

“Malik and I stumbled into many conversations.” A wry grin formed. “Ones that were probably more like arguments between our mother and father. My parents love each other fiercely and have always had the same goal in mind—to provide a better life for all who call Atlantia their home. To make sure that everyone is safe and well cared for. But their methods of achieving that goal don’t always line up.”

I thought about that. “Ruling a kingdom and actually wanting what is best for the people you’re responsible for cannot be easy.”

“No, it’s not,” he agreed. “My father has always had more of an aggressive mentality toward achieving that goal.”

One of his father’s more aggressive ideas was to send me back to the Queen of Solis in pieces. “And your mother truly doesn’t have the same ideology?”

“I think my mother has seen enough war to last her four lifetimes,” he said. “Even when Malik and I were both too young to fully understand the problems Atlantia faced with the ever-decreasing land and the threat of Solis just beyond the Skotos Mountains, we could feel the heaviness that sat on our father’s shoulders, and the sadness that wore on our mother. She is an incredibly strong woman. Just like you. But she worries greatly for the people, and some days, the sadness overshadows the hope.”

“Do you know if your mother loved Malec?” I asked. According to Casteel, it was rare for Atlantians to marry without love between the two, but his mother’s marriage to the original King didn’t sound like it had been a happy one. Part of me hoped she didn’t love him, considering how the marriage had turned out. But she’d given her son a name so strikingly similar to her first husband’s that I had to wonder.

Casteel appeared to think it over. “She never really talked about him. Malik and I used to think it was out of respect for our father, but he isn’t the type to be affected by another who is no longer a part of her life. I think she loved him, Malec, and as crazy as this will sound, I think Malec loved her, too.”

Surprise shuttled through me. “But he had numerous affairs, right? And didn’t you say it was rumored that he and Isbeth were heartmates?”

Casteel nodded as he twisted a strand of my hair between his fingers. “I think Malec was in love with being in love, and he was constantly chasing that feeling instead of nourishing what he already had.” He dragged his thumb over the hair he held. “If the rumor of Malec and Isbeth being heartmates is true, it could’ve been the first time he stopped searching and paid attention to what was in front of him.”

My brows knitted. “All of that sounds incredibly sad and also hopeful. I mean, that if your mother did love Malec, she was still able to find love again. To open herself like that once more. I don’t know…” I held the journal close to my chest. “I don’t know if I could do that.”

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