I nodded. “I am.”
“Good.” She squeezed my arms and then let go, placing a hand on her belly. “Kieran told me you met Vonetta?”
“I have,” I said as Casteel appeared at my side, resting his palm on the center of my back. “Vonetta was so kind to me. She let me borrow one of her gowns and helped me get ready for the marriage ceremony. I hope I get to see her again soon.”
“What about me?” Kieran asked, and his mother and I looked at him. “I’ve been kind to you.”
“Someone sounds like they’re already experiencing middle-child syndrome,” Casteel murmured under his breath.
“And I’m also, like, standing right here,” Kieran added. “In front of you.”
My lips twitched as I glanced at him. “You are…okay.”
“Okay?” he repeated with a huff of offense, crossing his arms.
“Don’t pay him any mind,” Kirha said. “He’s annoyed because the Healers believe he will soon have another younger sister.”
Casteel chuckled. “You and Jasper are about to be sorely outnumbered.”
“Tell me about it,” Kieran muttered.
“When are you due?” I asked.
“Within a month, if the gods are willing,” she answered, rubbing her stomach. “And not a day too soon. I swear this child is already as large as Kieran.”
“That sounds disturbing,” Kieran frowned, and I had to agree with him on that. “You said you were going to see your parents?”
Casteel nodded. “We are headed there now.”
“Then I will go with you.” Kieran turned to his mother. “Do you need anything before I leave?”
“Yes.” She laughed. “Your father should be here any moment now. He can help me with this.” She gestured at the yarn. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to assist me.”
The look on Kieran’s face said he doubted that as Casteel and I helped gather up the wayward balls of yarn, placing them next to the basket.
“Penellaphe?” Kirha stopped us as we turned to leave. “I know you didn’t meet Casteel’s parents under the best of circumstances.”
His expression was stoic as I glanced at him. “No, I did not.”
“And for that, I am even more saddened by what was done to you,” she said. “Eloana and Valyn are good people. They never would’ve allowed what happened if they had known. That, I know for sure. And once they get past the initial shock of everything that has occurred, I also know that Eloana will accept you just as warmly and openly as I have.”
Once we were near the stables, I looked over at Kieran, still thinking about what Kirha had said before we left. “Your mother? Does she have a way of knowing things like your father?” Like you, went unsaid.
He frowned slightly. “At times, yes. Why?”
Well, as I had expected, that hadn’t been an odd coincidence. “Nothing.” I shook my head, aware of Casteel listening intently. “I was just curious.”
“There were definitely some powerful changelings somewhere in both of their bloodlines,” Casteel remarked as he took Setti’s reins from an unfamiliar stablehand, his gaze drifting over his shoulder.
I saw three wolven in their true forms. One of them was the black one I’d spotted near the wall, but it was the mortal-looking female dressed in all black, breeches and tunic, that I focused on. I immediately recognized her, even though her pin-straight brown hair was pinned back at the nape of her neck.
It was Lyra.
I stole a glance at Kieran as she approached us, but I picked up on no real discernible emotion from either of them.
Stopping a few feet from us, Lyra dropped into a swift one-knee bow. “Meyaah Liessa,” she said. Behind her, the wolven lowered their heads to the ground.
Unsure of what to do with such a formal greeting after dancing around a bonfire with her the night prior, I glanced between Kieran and Casteel, the latter nodding reassuringly. Before I could say something most likely embarrassing, Lyra rose. Her pale gaze shifted to Casteel. “We will serve as your guards as you make this trip.”
“Thank you, Lyra,” Casteel said. “That is most appreciated.”
I nodded my agreement, hoping I didn’t look as ridiculous as I felt. I probably did. Lyra gave me a quick, lopsided smile as her gaze briefly connected with mine. I turned to see Casteel biting down on his lip as if he wanted to laugh, and I suspected it had nothing to do with my response to her greeting but had everything to do with what we’d watched last night. My eyes narrowed on him as I gripped the saddle, and he looked as if the struggle became even harder. I swung myself up onto Setti.
Casteel joined me, folding an arm around my waist while I stroked the side of Setti’s neck. As I watched Kieran mount his horse, I asked, “Is the bowing thing going to happen often?”
“Yes,” he answered, taking the reins of his horse.
“Why didn’t your mother do that?” I wondered out loud. “Not that I wanted her to, but I’m curious. Is it because she’s pregnant?” I doubted she would’ve been able to drop into such a position.
“I told her it would make you uncomfortable if she did,” Kieran answered. “Just like I told my father not to do it.”
My chest warmed. “You know what?”
He raised a brow as he looked down at me. “What?”
I reached over and patted his chest. “You’re more than okay.”
“Now that I know you think I’m more than okay, I can sleep well at night.” His tone was as dry as the Wastelands, but I grinned.
“By the way, when it happens again, you can say ‘You may rise,’” Casteel said as he nudged Setti into motion. “Or if you would like to use something less formal, you can simply say ‘Yes’ or greet them by name if you know who is before you. And before you ask them to cast the formality aside, please know that I have also asked that of many, and you’ve seen how well it worked for me.”
Not very well at all.
Sighing, I leaned against Casteel as we rode out of the courtyard. The wolven, now four of them, followed at a discreet distance.
“We won’t have to ride through the busiest parts of the city to get to the estate,” Casteel told me as we veered onto a paved road surrounded by tall, lush cypress trees. The wolven quickly disappeared into the thick foliage. “We can follow the bluffs straight to it. There will be people, but nothing like when we entered the city or yesterday.”
While I’d thoroughly enjoyed my all-too-quick visit to Saion’s Cove, my mind was already a twisted mess, focused on the upcoming meeting with Casteel’s parents. “Thank you.”
He dipped his head and kissed my cheek as Kieran sent him a wry look. “Don’t let him convince you that his motives are completely altruistic. He also doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of shouts and long looks of admiration.”
There had been a lot of them the day before.
“It makes me self-conscious,” Casteel said.
“Really?” I asked, and when Casteel agreed, I looked to Kieran for confirmation. “Is he lying to me?”