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A Soul of Ash and Blood: Chapter 69


“I never wanted you to find out the way you did,” I told Poppy. “And I know that’s no excuse—I knew that then. It doesn’t matter that I planned to tell you the truth. I should’ve told you everything before we spent that night together, and I know I should’ve also forced you to confront what you already had to know.” I took a shallow breath. “That I was who you believed to be the Dark One. That would’ve been the right thing to do. I knew that then, too, but I was selfish. I wanted you, and I didn’t have the decency to do the right thing.”

I lay beside Poppy, running my fingers over her arm. Her skin had warmed in the last few hours.

Hope was such a fragile creature, so I held it in check. “The thing is, Poppy? If I had to do it all over again, the first thing I would change is leaving you in that room. And I know that sounds fucked-up—that there is a whole slew of other things I should’ve done differently. But knowing what I should’ve done and what I would’ve done are two entirely different things. I was greedy then with you, even before I realized it, but that night…”

I traced the elegant lines of the bones and tendons in her hand. “I’d already fallen for you, despite what I said to Kieran. I didn’t know it wasn’t only lust and obsession. That I was already deeply and madly in love with you—your stubbornness and bravery, your kindness, and that delightful vicious streak that runs deep in you.” I grinned. “I just didn’t know that was what I was feeling because love…it wasn’t something I thought I deserved. Not after all my mistakes, the lives I’d taken, and the pain I’d caused others—the pain I caused you. The agony my actions were still going to bring you. It wasn’t even that I thought you’d never forgive me. It was that I couldn’t be forgiven and…” I trailed off, thinking about my brother and what he’d said about not telling Millicent they were heartmates.

My chest constricted. That was likely what drove Malik’s choice. He believed she couldn’t understand or forgive the things he’d done. That he wasn’t worthy of her love—of anyone’s, really. And despite our issues, that made me hurt for him.

I blew out a breath, forcing the tightness in my chest to loosen. “I hated seeing you in that cell, and I loathed leaving you there. Delano and Naill were to move you as soon as they could. They had to wait till they believed Jericho had left.” My lips thinned. “And for others in the keep to be occupied. They didn’t want to run the risk of being seen while moving you because New Haven had become a powder keg—more so than we even realized.”

A warm breeze rolled in through the window, playing with the strands of her hair. “I rode to Berkton as fast as I could, pushing Setti to his limits in that weather. The snow had eased off, but I knew I didn’t have long before it picked up again. When I arrived at the old manor, I…”

I really had no idea what I would have done if it had been my father there.

“Alastir was there, not the King. He’d convinced my father to remain in Atlantia because it was too much of a risk for him to be that deep in Solis. You already know that, but the relief I felt? I could’ve fallen to my knees. Alastir…he was a traitorous bastard at the end, and fuck him, but to this day, I’m glad he came.” I lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to the top.

“I was able to convince him that I had things handled and that the roads were too bad for his group to travel.” I glanced at the closed doors. “Emil helped there, being his ridiculous self. And Alastir? He didn’t push me. Wouldn’t. Honestly? I think the delay was a relief to him. You see, he didn’t know who you really were then. All he knew was that he was about to go and do something I’m not sure he wanted to do—something he’d assured my father he would do.”

I mulled that over, reconciling the Alastir I had grown up with, with the one who had killed. Who had ultimately betrayed us. “I used to think it was because he was a good—sometimes irritating—man. Now, I realize he just didn’t want more innocent blood on his hands. But that was before he saw who you were.”

My smile faded. “If my father had been there? He would’ve ridden to New Haven anyway, and I don’t know if I would’ve been able to change his mind,” I admitted in the quiet. “But I do know I would not have allowed him to hurt you.”

Turning her hand, I kissed the golden imprint. “I would’ve gotten people banished. Others killed. I would’ve split the kingdom.” The truth tasted like ash on my tongue. “I would’ve killed him,” I whispered. “Honest to gods, even then, before I could really understand what I felt for you—that you were my soul—I would’ve killed him.”

I lowered her hand. “But that didn’t happen. I got lucky there, but the luck didn’t last.” I soaked in the sight of the pink slowly returning to her cheeks, even as the image of her bloodless body being handed to me filled my mind, a memory I wouldn’t forget.

The breath I took burned a little. “The fear I felt when word of your attack reached me on the way back to the keep? I should’ve known then. Kieran did.” I threaded my fingers through hers. “More so than before. He saw my panic, what I was willing to do to save you. Anyone else? Kieran would’ve destroyed them for stabbing me. But you? Don’t get me wrong. There was a moment when instinct took over. You hurt me. That initial response is beyond his control. But me stopping him wasn’t the reason he didn’t give in to it. He knew. That was why he let you live.” I squeezed her hand. “He already knew that I was in love with you.”


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