“I don’t see them,” I said.
“They’re at the mouth of the alley,” he told me, catching my ear between his teeth. I shuddered. “They’re giving us privacy to speak.”
A short giggle left me. “I’m sure that’s what they think we’re doing.”
“Does it matter?” he questioned.
I thought about that as my pulse sped up. Did it? What had happened last night flashed before me, as did the memory of seeing Casteel prone on the Chambers’ floor. Believing he’d died. In a heartbeat, I remembered what it had been like when the blood had drained from my body, realizing there would be no more new experiences, no more moments of wild abandon. That little girl had gotten a second chance, and so had I.
I wouldn’t waste it.
“No,” I said as his gaze lifted to mine. Heart pounding, I reached between us. The backs of my trembling fingers brushed against him, and he jerked as I undid the flap of buttons. “It doesn’t.”
“Thank fuck,” he growled and then kissed me again, obliterating any reservations that stemmed from a lifetime of being sheltered. His tongue stroked mine as he slid an arm around my waist, lifting me. His strength never ceased to send a thrill through me. “Wrap your legs around me.”
I did, moaning at the feel of his hard flesh nestled against mine.
He reached between us, and I felt the tip of him pressing into me. “Just so you know”—he raised his head, his gaze locking with mine—“I’m completely in control.”
“Totally,” he swore, thrusting into me.
My head pushed back against the wall as the feel of him, hot and thick, consumed me. His mouth closed over mine, and I loved the way he kissed me, like my very taste was enough for him to live on.
He moved against me and in me, the twin warmth of his body and the stone blocks at my back a delicious assault on my senses. The thrusts of our tongues matched the slow plunge of his hips. Things…things didn’t stay that way. Wedging his arm between my back and the wall, he rocked against me until my body became a fire he fanned with each stroke and each intoxicating kiss. He pressed in, grinding against the small bundle of nerves, only to pull back and then return with another deep thrust. When he started to retreat, I tightened my legs around his waist, locking me to him.
He chuckled against my lips. “Greedy.”
“Tease,” I said, mimicking his earlier act by catching his lip with my teeth.
“Fuck,” he groaned, shifting his hips as he ground into me, over and over, the movements increasing in intensity until they became feverish, until it felt like I would break apart. My head spun as the bliss built. He felt like he was everywhere, and when he dropped his mouth to my throat, and I felt the scrape of his fangs, it was all too much. Spasms rocked my body in tight, slick waves, throwing me so high, I didn’t think I’d ever come down as he followed me into that bliss, shuddering as my throat muffled his deep moan of release.
We stayed like that for a little bit, joined together, and both struggling to gain control of our breathing. Shaken, it took quite a few minutes for me to come to my senses while he eased himself from me and carefully lowered me to my feet.
With his arm holding me tightly against him, Casteel looked over his shoulder. “You know what? It is a beautiful garden.”
Casteel and I walked hand and hand through the city on the coast of the Seas of Saion, the sun and salty breeze warm against our skin as we stepped out of the seamstress shop, where a Miss Seleana quickly took my measurements. We weren’t alone. Kieran walked on the other side of me, and Delano, along with four other wolven, followed as Casteel took me through the winding, colorful streets full of storefronts painted in yellows and greens, and homes that boasted vivid blue front doors. An orange poppy blossom was tucked in my hair, one Casteel had paid nearly triple for, even though the street vendor tried to give us a dozen for free. Our hands were sticky from the cinnamon pastries we had been given a few blocks from the florist, in front of a shop that smelled like all things sugar and was painted to match the dewy grass. And there was a smile plastered to my face that not even the brief bursts of distrust radiating on and off throughout the afternoon could erase. I only seemed to sense the cautious emotion from the mortal inhabitants and a few of the Atlantians with graying hair. Those were few and far between. Otherwise, all I felt was curiosity and surprise. No one, not even those who bowed with a sense of wariness, was rude or threatening. That could’ve been because of Casteel, Kieran, and the wolven. It could’ve also been the Guards of the Crown, dressed in white that we spotted shortly before picking up the flower, their presence evidence that Casteel’s parents knew we moved about the city.
Or it could’ve been what they had heard about me—about what I was capable of.
Either way, I honestly couldn’t give a fig. I was enjoying myself despite the unanswered questions, the shadow of the Unseen lingering over us, what I’d done for the girl in the garden, and everything that needed to be decided and done.
When Casteel had asked if I wanted to take a walk through the city, I’d hesitated. We needed to speak with his parents. Not only did we owe them that, but there was also the possibility that they held some of the answers to the questions we had. But Casteel had kissed me and said, “We have tomorrow, Poppy, and we have right now. You get to decide how you want to spend it.”
I wanted those answers. I wanted to somehow ensure that his parents didn’t…well, think I was a threat. But with my muscles still lax and my blood still warm from those wicked moments in the alcove, I’d decided I wanted to spend right now exploring. Enjoying myself. Living.
And so, that was what we did.
We were steadily walking toward the lower part of the city and the glistening beaches, past buildings with outdoor dining tables packed with people chatting and sharing food. Kieran had called them cafés, and I knew places like that existed in Solis, but I’d only ever seen them in Masadonia, and from a distance. I’d never been inside one.
Having just experienced an icy treat made of crushed ice and fruit, we didn’t venture into any of the cafés.
Casteel stopped when we came upon a squat, windowless building, though, tugging me to the side. Stone benches sat between the pillars of a wide colonnade. “Didn’t you say you were interested in museums?”
Surprise flickered through me. On our journey to Skotos when we left Spessa’s End, I’d mentioned to Delano and Naill when they talked about the different conservatories in Atlantia, that I’d never been allowed to enter one in Solis. I hadn’t realized that Casteel had been paying attention, nor did I expect him to remember something I’d forgotten.
I nodded as I resisted the urge to wrap my arms around him like one of the furry little creatures that hung from the trees by their tails in the forests near the Elysium Peaks. I didn’t think Casteel would mind, but Kieran would probably sigh.
“Would you like to go inside?” Casteel asked.
“I would.” Eager to see some of Atlantia’s history, I managed to proceed up the steps beside Casteel and Kieran, moving at a sedate pace.
The inside was dimly lit and a bit stagnant, smelling faintly of camphor. As we passed a limestone sculpture of one of the goddesses, Kieran explained that there were no windows, so the light didn’t fade the paintings or stones.