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A Soul of Ash and Blood: Chapter 26

PRESENT IV

“I’d forgotten all about that,” I said, eyeing the elegant curves of her jaw and then the brave lines cut through her cheek and brow. “Lord Devries. What he said about you.” I dragged in a ragged breath. “What he said to me.”

It was late, sometime in the middle of the night. Kieran had left to check on things. I lay beside her now, my body cradling hers. There wasn’t even an inch of space between us. I found her hands in the candlelit chamber without taking my eyes off her face. They rested on her stomach, just below her chest. I ran my fingers over hers. They were incredibly still between mine, smooth. The bones beneath felt so damn fragile.

Her skin was still icy.

“He was right, you know? About you being Chosen. Neither Kieran nor I got it then.” I threaded my fingers through hers. Seconds ticked by, turning into minutes. “I think we both blocked that whole thing out. I…I did because it was something I didn’t want to remember. Kieran would’ve done the same because he knew it caused me pain.”

I wanted to close my eyes. It was hard thinking about my time in captivity, let alone speaking about it. It was that lingering shame. Still as difficult to talk about as it was to admit I’d hurt myself.

“I didn’t recognize him, Poppy, and I thought I wouldn’t forget a single face of those who had taken part. But I did, and it…it fucked with my head. Made me wonder how many I’d blocked out. I don’t even know why it mattered. I don’t think it does now.” My gaze flickered over her profile. “But it gets to me, you know? That I can’t remember what this Lord bore witness to. Did he see me used? Was he there when I hurt others—when I fed from them until there was nothing left? Was he there with Malik in the beginning?”

I dragged my thumb over the top of her hand. “He was also right about Malik.” A low, rough laugh left me. “He said, ‘There is no kept Prince,’ and he’d spoken the truth.”

In the silence, I had to ask if that really was the truth.

Malik may not have been kept in a cage and chained the entire time he was with the Blood Queen, but he had been kept.

“His chains were invisible,” I said aloud, glancing toward the closed chamber door. “And those chains had a name.”

Millicent.

His heartmate.

I looked at Poppy and didn’t even want to imagine our roles reversed. Poppy in place of Millie. Me instead of Malik. But I knew one thing. “I’d gladly serve any monstrous being if it meant you were safe. I can’t fault him for that. I really can’t. But…” My gaze returned to her cheek. To those scars. I leaned over, kissing the one on her temple. “I don’t know how I can forgive him for what he planned to do to you. He may not have harmed you with his own hands, but his actions left their marks on you.”

Marks that were both physical and emotional. Ones she still carried and likely always would.

“You probably want me to forgive him. I want to, but…” But I needed time. I needed to talk to him. I needed to understand, and none of that would happen right now. Still, I wanted to.

Because I’d seen Malik die in the Bone Temple. Struck down. And, fuck. That had taken a part of me out there. He was my brother, fucked-up choices and all.

Pushing the mess with Malik aside, a faint smile returned as I thought of my first day guarding Poppy. “Do you remember when you finally spoke to me? It was after you were in the atrium.”

My smile quickly faded when I thought of what came next.

The Duke.

And her nightmares.


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