Casteel rubbed the towel through his hair. “But if they did know, that would mean that the Ascended—the Blood Crown—knew that one of your parents was a descendant of Atlantia.”
“And that leaves us with the question of why they weren’t used in the same fashion as all the others descended from Atlantia,” I murmured, sighing. One possible answer or question just led to another. It made my head hurt.
And my heart, too.
“Before those things showed up tonight, you asked how it was possible for your abilities to be this strong—how they were this strong even before Cas Ascended you.” Kieran drew my gaze to him. “One of your parents had to be a full-blooded Atlantian.”
“But how is that possible if I’m descended from Malec? His offspring with a mistress would’ve been mortal. And if my mother was a Handmaiden, it couldn’t have been her, right?” I looked at Casteel.
“I would think not,” he answered, tossing the towel into the hamper. “None I saw were, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible—possibly implausible, but not impossible.”
“And I look like my mother,” I told them. “Except for my eyes.”
“Your father?” Kieran asked, even though I was sure we’d had this conversation before.
“He was from Carsodonia, just like my mother was,” I answered.
“I know you don’t like to hear this,” Kieran started, and I stiffened, knowing where he was going with this, “but that’s all assuming that your parents were your birth parents. Or—” he quickly added when I opened my mouth. “Or what you remember, what you were told about who your parents were, simply wasn’t the truth.”
“He’s right,” Casteel said softly, his gaze searching mine. “I don’t know why Alastir would’ve lied about your mother being a Handmaiden. If he was telling the truth, your mother was never a Lady in Wait, destined to Ascend. That could also mean your father wasn’t a merchant’s son.” He paused. “It could also mean that only one—or neither of them—was your parent by blood.”
And if neither of them was? Then Ian…he may not be like me at all if he Ascended. He may be like any other vampry.
Leaning against the cold tile, I tipped my head back. I started to respond and then stopped as my toes curled against the floor. “I was young. My memories of before that night are spotty at best. I just know what I was told about them, and although Ian was older, it wouldn’t be like he knew any differently.” I shook my head, overwhelmed. “But I look like my mother, so maybe my father was an Atlantian, and my mother a mortal descendant of Malec and his mistress. Would that explain my abilities being so strong?”
“That would be one hell of a coincidence,” Kieran noted, and he was right.
Casteel and Kieran exchanged a look. “I don’t know,” Casteel answered. “That’s a complicated bloodline to sort through, but that’s also working off the assumption that you are related to Malec. You may not be. Alastir could be wrong, even if he truly believed that.”
I wondered if his mother would know somehow.
Casteel’s gaze met mine. “We’ll figure this out.”
Other than his mother, as unlikely as that may be, only one other person may know.
Casteel turned to Kieran. “I think there’s an old robe in there. Can you grab it for me?”
Kieran handed him a long piece of black clothing as he said, “There’s something I need to do real quick. I’ll be right back.”
Watching me, Casteel nodded curtly as he hung the robe from a hook by the door. “We’ll be here.” He waited until Kieran disappeared. “Let’s get you out of that shirt so I can burn it.”
A wry grin tugged at my lips. “I guess this shirt isn’t salvageable?”
“Unlikely.” He came to me, curling his fingers around the hem. “You know the drill.”
I lifted my arms. “I think you like taking my clothes off.”
“I do.” Casteel tugged the shirt up and over my head. Cool air washed over all the newly exposed skin. He dropped the tunic to the floor as he stared down at me, his lips parting just enough that I could see a hint of his fangs as his gaze swept over me in a slow, lingering perusal. Muscles tightened low in my stomach. He placed his hand on the side of my ribs and under my breast. The contact sent a sharp pulse through me. His other hand did the same on the other side of my body. “However, I do not like undressing you, only to cover you immediately.”
I looked down, my toes curling even more against the tile floor at what I saw beyond the puckered, rosy-pink tips of my breasts. His golden-bronze skin was such a striking contrast to mine, and his hands were so large and strong.
“What Kieran asked of you tonight? Don’t hold it against him. He cares for you. And his concern?” he said. “I have to fight my instincts when it comes to you rushing out there to battle everything and anything, too. It’s not because I don’t think you’re capable. It’s just that I fear losing you.” He lowered his head, and his warm breath coasted over my chest and to the swell of a breast. “But your need to defend yourself is greater than my fear. That’s the only reason I don’t stop you. It will be the same for Kieran.”
“I know—” I gasped as his mouth closed over my breast. My eyes widened as I stared down at the dark, damp curls of his hair. His tongue swirled over my nipple, eliciting another strangled sound from me. He looked up at me, eyes burning as he arched a brow, waiting for me to continue. “I…I won’t hold it against Kieran.”
A brief, pleased smile crossed his face, and then he caught the sensitive skin between the edges of his teeth and then his lips. “You know what helps me get over my fear?”
I shook my head.
“This.” The pink tip of his tongue flicked over the throbbing, tightened skin. “This helps. So does your bravery, and you know what else? I get to reward you for your bravery.”
My pulse had already been pounding, but now it thundered through me. “I…I get a reward?”
“You do, but I also get a reward for looking past my fear,” he said, his thick lashes lifting once more. Gold churned restlessly in his eyes. “It’s a good thing this reward will be mutually beneficial.”
“It will be?”
He nodded, and then his mouth closed over my breast again. I felt the wet slide of his tongue and then the wicked scrape of his fangs. My breath caught at the forbidden sensation, and then he struck, sinking his sharp teeth into the flesh above my nipple. I cried out, threading my hands into his hair as my entire body jerked. The razor-sharp pain was intense, shooting through my entire body. There was a second where I wanted to pull away when the pleasure-pain was almost too much, but it was gone in a heartbeat. He sealed his lips over the tingling skin of my breast and sucked deep, drawing the sensitive peak into his mouth, taking my blood into himself.
A fire erupted inside me, heating my blood and every part of my body. My head spun, and I shuddered as his growl rumbled against my skin. I held onto his hair, shamelessly holding him there as damp heat flooded my entire being. An aching spike of pleasure darted through me. My hips twitched as he tugged at my skin.