The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 81

“It’s your laugh.” His lips brushed the damp skin of my neck. “I’ll never get used to hearing it or thinking you do it enough.” His chest rose sharply against my back, and I sensed something raw and sharp from deep within him. “After everything that happened with Shea and my brother, I honest to gods never thought a laugh could wreck me like yours does. And when I say it wrecks me, I mean in the best way—in the most complete way. And I…” A shaky breath left him. “I just want to thank you for that.”

“You’re thanking me?” I twisted as far as I could in his embrace, searching for his gaze and finding it. “I should be thanking you. It is you who made it possible for me to laugh without recourse.”

He dropped his forehead to my temple. “Yeah?”

“Yes,” I said, curling my hand around the back of his neck. “I’m living because of you, Cas, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. You think you’re not worthy of me? In reality, I sometimes wonder if I’m not worthy of you.”


“It’s true.” I squeezed the back of his neck. “Nothing you say can change that, but I know. I know in here.” I pressed my palm to my chest. “That I would do anything for you. I know you would do anything for me. You have, and nothing in this realm or any other will ever change that or how I feel about you. Nothing should ever make you forget that I laugh because of you.”

Shuddering, he pressed his lips to my temple and then folded one arm around my waist, resting his hand on my hip, where his fingers traced idle circles. He didn’t say anything as he rested his chin atop my head, and neither did I. Words weren’t always needed, and inherently, I knew this was one of those moments.

We just were as I watched those dancing around the fire break into smaller groups, some drifting out toward where the waves ebbed and flowed over the sand, and others into the canopied tents. I caught sight of Kieran once more. He was with who we thought was Lyra. Or at least I thought so. I honestly couldn’t be sure. His arm was around the woman’s shoulders, his head bent toward hers as they walked into the shadows of the bluffs.

I looked away, watching those who were still at the fire for a couple of minutes before I glanced back toward the bluffs.

My lips parted. I had no idea how Kieran and the female had gotten from where I’d last seen them to him leaning back in the sand and her kneeling between his legs, her hands in the general vicinity of an area that would definitely be considered naughty.

“Are they…?” I sucked in a sharp breath as Kieran’s head fell back. My eyes widened.

Casteel’s chuckle was dark and soft. “Do you still need me to answer that question?”

I swallowed. “No.”

The hand at my hip continued moving in small, distracting circles as I watched who I thought might be Lyra move her head back and forth in a way that reminded me of how I moved against Casteel.

“Are you scandalized?” Casteel whispered.

Was I? I wasn’t sure. Maybe I should be because I definitely shouldn’t be watching. Every single social propriety there was, demanded that I look away and pretend that I had no idea what they were doing. But I did know. I’d read about the act Lyra was engaging in now in Miss Willa’s diary. My heart thumped heavily. It was like when Casteel kissed me between the thighs, except the way Willa had described it, there was less kissing and licking, and more…sucking. That whole act had confused me greatly when I first read about it, but that was before I had learned that there were all kinds of acts one could do with any number of body parts.

“I’ll take your non-answer as a no?” Casteel queried.

Feeling my cheeks warm, I dragged my gaze to the fire where people sat and talked, either unaware of what was happening in the shadows or not caring. “You did say the wolven were into public displays of affection.”

He laughed again. “I did, and they are very open with their…affections. They feel no shame in doing so. I’m sure at some point you will definitely see a bare ass or two.”

I liked that they felt no shame, possibly never even knowing the sourness of that emotion attached to such actions. There was an enviable freedom in that, to exist and be so free and open.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t feel embarrassed to say so,” Casteel said quietly. “We don’t have to stay, and we can leave whenever you want.”

His offer tugged on my heart, and I turned my head, kissing the underside of his jaw. “Thank you for saying that, but I’m not uncomfortable.”

“Okay,” he said, tilting his head and kissing me.

And I really wasn’t as I leaned into Casteel, resting my head against his chest. If there was no shame in their actions, then there was none in my heart.

But I really shouldn’t be watching, and that was exactly what I was doing, my gaze finding where Kieran and Lyra had gone with rather unerring accuracy. I saw Lyra place a hand on his chest, pushing him back as he started to sit up or…reach for her. She was in control of her actions as Kieran retreated to rest on his elbows, a confidence in her as her head moved, a hand following the movements.

I really should have kept my senses locked down when I focused on Lyra, but I felt that control I had assumed was there, mixed with warm smokiness. The warmth in my cheeks increased, flowing down my neck as I shifted, stretching out my leg. My breath caught as Casteel’s fingers moved a scant couple of inches from my hip to the left, still moving in those maddening, tiny circles.

And I really, really shouldn’t have left my senses open when my gaze flicked to Kieran. The spiciness gathered in the back of my throat and low in my body, the place Casteel’s fingers were so dangerously close to. I closed down my senses before I pried any further, but I…


“Yes,” I whispered as Lyra seemed to tilt her head, pressing in impossibly close to Kieran’s body.

“Are you watching them?” Casteel asked, his voice full of smoke.

A denial rose to the tip of my tongue.

“If so, you wouldn’t be the only one, nor are they the only ones being watched,” he said, one of his fingers stretching over the thin material of my gown. “They find no shame in any act of affection, whether they are involved in it, casual observers…or more active watchers.”

Active watchers?

My gaze wandered across the rippling canopies and the shadowy depths inside, to where a slender arm beckoned to another who had been seated in the sand outside. The man put the bottle of what he’d been drinking down and rose, bending down as he entered the space under the canopy, where the shadowy outlines of bodies moved in unison. He joined them as Casteel shifted behind me again, leaning forward to slip his hand under where the hem of my gown was gathered at my knees. My heart might have stuttered as he trailed those fingers up the length of my bare skin, somehow managing to keep the skirt of the gown in place. The fingers on his right hand continued creeping lower and lower as I saw the man lower himself behind the one who moved on top. My pulse pounded as Casteel’s fingers hesitated under my gown at the vee of my legs.

A slight tremor of anticipation tinged with uncertainty ran through me, followed by a sharp twist in my very core.

“Poppy, Poppy, Poppy,” Casteel murmured as a finger above the gown reached the sensitive bundle of nerves. “Does what you’re seeing in that tent answer any questions you might have had about how three lovers can enjoy each other?”

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