“No, it’s-it’s not good,” Kyanna sputtered. “She isn’t a citizen in good standing.”
The king turned, his hand gripping the arms of his enormous chair with such force his knuckles had gone white. “She came back to the kingdom of her own free will.”
“Yes, Kyanna.” Willa’s voice held a clear challenge. “That proves my heart is in the right place and if that’s enough for the king, then it should be enough for everyone.”
Kyanna fumed, but she didn’t reveal the truth, so obviously, kidnapping Willa and forcing her to return would not have played well with the king. Nick smiled. Willa was brilliant. He couldn’t figure out her end game, but so far he’d put her in the lead.
Kyanna huffed out a breath, her jaw tight with anger. “Yes, I suppose it should be.”
The king clapped again. “It’s settled then. The challenge will take place tomorrow in the great hall.” He gestured to one of the fae who’d been standing near the back of the room. An older man with patrician features and purple trimming on his clothes. The king’s right-hand man, whatever that position was called. “Gerard, arrange this challenge.”
Gerard bowed. “Yes, Your Highness. With pleasure.”
The king’s smile faded as tiredness slumped his shoulders. “I must rest, but I shall see you both at noon in the great hall. I look forward to it.” He paused and looked at Willa. “You have a place to stay, I assume?”
She nodded. “With my parents, Your Highness.”
“Very good.” He raised a hand and dismissed the audience before him.
Willa bowed and stepped back, putting herself even with Nick. Before she could say anything, he grabbed her hand. “You sure about this?”
“That and staying with your parents.” Jarrel and Melinna moved toward them, looking slightly shell shocked.
She turned to look at them and nodded. “They want to help me? Then they’ll go along and put us up for the night. Because we’re not spending another second in that dungeon.”
As if sensing they were no longer required, the guards who’d surrounded Nick and Willa on their trek up from the bowels of the kingdom suddenly dispersed. Willa’s parents took the guards’ place, herding Nick and Willa out the door and down the hall.
They were silent but curiously happy, greeting everyone they passed with bright smiles and nods of their heads. That strangeness held until the four of them were through the courtyard and inside her parents’ house, one in the very first circle of homes surrounding the castle. It proved their status as parents of the All Seer and was almost as nicely appointed as the castle had been.
“I see you’ve moved,” Willa said. She looked around the home. “Does this mean you’re in Kyanna’s pocket after all?”
“No,” her father said as he shut the door. “But she wants us close.”
Nick glanced around. Stairs led to higher and lower levels. “How secure is this place then?”
“You mean are we being monitored?” Jarrel asked. “Kyanna’s power doesn’t extend that far.”
“That you know about,” Nick replied.
Willa looked around. “Since my parents haven’t challenged Kyanna yet, she has no reason to be suspicious of them. I doubt she’s monitoring them at home. I’m sure we’re safe here.” She shrugged. “At the least we’ll be able to get a decent night’s sleep.”
Her mother made a noise that sounded like disapproval.
Willa shook her head and looked at Melinna. “You said you wanted to help. You allowed us to come back here with you.”
“We do want to help.” She glanced at Nick. At the bracelet on his wrist. “It’s just that…Jarrel.” Melinna shot him a look.
Jarrel started toward Nick. “Of course we want to help. We can start by getting that bracelet off you, son.”
Nick kept his arm firmly at his side. It was a kind offer, but Willa had a plan and Nick didn’t want to deviate from it. “No, it’s Willa’s. It stays on.”
Willa opened her mouth to say something, but Shay’s cry of joy interrupted her.
“Willa! You’re here!” She ran to Willa and hugged her, then peered around Willa’s body to look at Nick. She blinked up at him. “Hello.”
He nodded at her. “Hello, Shay.”
She looked up at Willa. “Is he your boyfriend?”
Willa’s grin lit up the room as she glanced at Nick. “Yes, he is.”
Melinna sucked in a breath and Jarrel cleared his throat.
Nick grinned back. He knew they were a long way from home, and a long way from being safe, but at that moment, none of it mattered so much as Willa’s claiming him.
Shay’s gaze returned to Nick. “Are you going to marry my sister?”
He snorted, half because of her question and half because of the stunned expression on Willa’s face. “We’ll talk about that later.”
“Shay,” Melinna said sternly. “Enough questions for now. Is your reading done?”
Shay’s lids fluttered with consternation. “No.”
“Please go to your room and finish it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” With an exasperated sigh, Shay went.
Melinna watched the child go, then wrung her hands together and looked back at Willa and Nick. “I imagine you’re both hungry after being in the dungeon.”