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A Soul of Ash and Blood: Chapter 71


“Fucking gods,” I grunted, stunned by the myriad of emotions. I was shocked that she’d actually done it, furious because she’d meant it, and also amused. I gripped the dagger’s hilt.

Kieran suddenly appeared in the open door. “Good gods.” He staggered forward a step, his breathing ragged. “She stabbed you.”

“Just a little.” I jerked the dagger free. Pain exploded as I thrust the blade into the floor. “Fuck.”

“A little?” Kieran snarled. “Did she get your heart?”

“Almost.” Or maybe just a little. Perhaps a nick. “And with bloodstone. A half an inch to the left?” Another wet, bloody laugh left me as anger seeped through my veins like a fire. “That would’ve…really hurt.”

A low rumble of fury radiated from Kieran. My head jerked up as the predator in me woke. His skin had thinned, jaw elongating. The blue of his eyes was as brilliant as stars. His head swung toward the door as his chest expanded, stretching the seams of his tunic. It was more than just the bond kicking in, demanding he go after the one who’d harmed me. If he did, he would capture Poppy…

“No.” I shoved to my feet, ignoring a burst of fresh agony. “Do not go after her. I will get her.” I took a breath. It stung, but the blade was out. The wound would heal quickly. The pain would stop. “I will handle her.”

Tendons stood out in his neck as his head whipped back to me. He vibrated with rage. “I’m going to—”

No,” I roared, lunging. I edged Kieran back from the door, fangs bared. “She is mine.”

Kieran locked up, then took an unsteady step back, his mouth going slack. “Cas…”

There was nothing else for me to say. I turned from him, taking off. She is mine repeated itself as I leapt over the second-floor banister. I hit the ground hard, sending another wave of pain through me. Rising among the falling snow, I scanned the covered courtyard, dragging a hand over my chest. The wound was already closing.

“The woods.” Elijah stood at the keep’s entrance. “She ran into the woods.”

Where did she think she was going, unprotected from the elements and without a weapon? My chin dipped, lips curving into a snarl. Whatever humor I’d found in the situation vanished. Stabbing me was one thing. Risking her life like this was something entirely different.

Poppy was bound and determined to get herself killed.

And perhaps I was, too.

The pain and blood loss sharpened my senses, leaving little room for anything beyond anger. That was dangerous for anyone, but especially an elemental Atlantian.

Crossing the courtyard in the blowing snow, I hit the woods and picked up speed. The snow-dusted branches were a blur as I caught her scent. Veering to the left, I rushed beneath a half-fallen pine.

I noticed a flash of dark red among the world of white and green, and a savage smile split my lips. There she was.

Warning bells rang in a distant part of my head. I’d felt this kind of madness before. I’d lived it. Regretted it. Accepted it. Only once. Decades ago, when I locked eyes with Shea and realized that she’d betrayed my brother. That madness was like standing on the precipice of a cliff, staring down at the fall.

And here I was, on that edge once more.

Like a predator, I made no sound. I gave no warning as I hunted Poppy and caught her with an arm around her waist.

She shrieked as her feet left the ground. I hauled her back against my chest, and the anguish I felt had nothing to do with the pain of the still-healing wound. It was for her. Me. This situation. Us. And the madness I was teetering on the verge of—the kind that erased all that mattered and left no winners. I gripped her chin, forcing her head back with the very hand that had killed so many. Those who had it coming. Those who didn’t. My fingers pressed into Poppy’s jaw just as they had hers.

“An Atlantian, unlike a wolven or an Ascended, can’t be killed by a stab to the heart,” I snarled into her ear. My anger at her reckless flight faded. The disbelief that she’d actually stabbed me vanished. All that was an agony that ran deeper than the physical. “If you wanted to kill me, you should’ve aimed for the head, Princess.” My jaw throbbed. “But worse yet, you forgot.”

“Forgot what?” she gasped.

“That it was real,” I growled.

I began to fall into that madness.

I struck, sinking my fangs into the side of her throat. I felt her entire body jerk against mine as my arm clamped down on her. Hot blood hit my tongue. I didn’t even taste it. I was falling, my mouth sealed to her throat, my fangs still buried deep in her flesh. I knew exactly what it felt like when the fangs remained in. The bite would feel like being burned alive, creating a firestorm of pain. Fragile skin would eventually tear. Her neck wouldn’t be broken by my hands, but Poppy would—


This wasn’t Shea.

This was the Maiden.

The Chosen.

Penellaphe Balfour.



Heart thundering, I withdrew as her warm blood splashed over my tongue, coating the inside of my mouth. I started to let her go, but then…

The taste of her hit me in a stunning, unexpected burst of sensation. Sweet. Fresh. Power. My mouth was still fused to her throat, and her blood flowed freely. The pain I’d caused had retreated the moment my fangs left her flesh. Now, my bite would create a wholly different kind of storm within her. In me.

Her taste was lush and rich, utter decadence. Her rapidly building arousal was pure sin. The heat of mine burned as I drank greedily. I groaned, lost in it all as I held her to me, but the taste of her…

Her blood, it was an awakening. There was something about it. Something in it. The inside of my mouth tingled. My skin hummed. There was something in her blood that shouldn’t be there. That couldn’t be. It was a charge of energy. Power. The pain of the wound was nowhere near as fierce.

Good gods.

That could only mean one thing.

She was—

Shock ripped through me. I tore myself away from her in disbelief.

Poppy stumbled, catching herself. She turned to me. I stood there, trembling as I watched blood seeping from my bite.

My chest rose and fell rapidly as she lifted a hand to her throat. She took a step back, and the shock of what I’d discovered faded.

Poppy was mortal, but her blood was also of my people. Atlantian.

“I can’t believe it.” I ran my tongue across my bottom lip, tasting her. Tasting the truth. My eyes closed as a groan of pleasure rumbled from my chest. She was half-Atlantian—and that part of her was fucking strong.

In an instant, so much made sense. My eyes opened. “But I should’ve known.”

I did now.

Once more, everything changed. I was on her before I could take another breath. I took her mouth with mine as I fisted her hair. Relief crashed into joy—brilliant and airy. There was a way out of this for her, one that would truly ensure her safety.

But right now, relief and elation weren’t the only things pumping through me—through her. Need and want came together. I kissed her as I wanted to from the first. No hiding my fangs, concealing who I was. And Poppy kissed me back just as fiercely, as desperately. She clung to me as I took her to the snow-covered ground, my mouth never leaving hers. Part of that was my bite. Once the pain left, pleasure came, but that only partly fueled her hungry little kisses as I rolled my hips against hers. I nipped at her lip, drunk on her breathy moan, on how she moved beneath me, rocking her hips, straining for more, wanting more.

From me.

Poppy wanted me.

That hadn’t stopped when she learned of my betrayal. Our attraction couldn’t be denied, but I needed to hear her say it.

Ending the kiss, I lifted my head to see her. “Tell me you want this.” I rocked against her. “Tell me you need more.”

“More,” she whispered.

“Thank fuck,” I growled, reaching between us, too needy and too fucking eager to be inside her. Because she knew. She knew the truth of me. There were no lies between us. I had to be inside her. Now. I grabbed the front of her breeches and yanked. Buttons sprang free.

“Goodness,” she gasped.

I laughed, shoving her pants down. I bared one lovely leg. That was enough. I lifted my gaze to hers. “You know this shirt was beyond repair, right?”

Her brows pinched. “Wha—?”

Curling my hand in the front of the bloodstained shirt, I ripped it open, baring her breasts to me. Fuck. I tore open my breeches as my gaze hungrily traveled across her creamy skin, dampened by the falling snow that found its way through the trees. Her plump nipples, a darker pink, were hard and puckered. I saw the dried streaks of blood leftover from when she was attacked. I froze. I’d come so close to losing her…

“I will kill them,” I swore. “I will fucking kill them all.”

Poppy shuddered as I claimed her mouth, settled myself between her thighs, and sank into her slick, tight heat. Her kisses muffled my shout. I went at her, fast and hard, and it was fucking mind-blowing. The way she met each thrust. How she clutched at me, my shoulders, my hair, and any part of me she could get her hands on. The snow fell harder, heavier, as if it were answering our fierceness with its own.

But I wanted this to last.

I drew her tongue into my mouth, obsessed with her taste, then left her lips. Kissing my way down her throat, I came to my bite. A growl of raw satisfaction escaped from me as I licked the tiny punctures, grinning as she gasped and strained against me. Her grip on my shoulders tightened as I swirled my tongue over the bite.

But I couldn’t stay there.

If I did, I’d reopen the wounds and drink more of her. I couldn’t do that. She had my blood in her, but I’d been greedy earlier, and she had been so gravely wounded before.

Kissing her throat, I lifted my head. Our gazes locked. Her eyes were wide and a stunning shade of green as the snow dotted the loose strands of her crimson hair.

Gods, she was…she was so godsdamn unexpected in every way. So beautiful. So brave. So vicious.

Trailing my hand down her chest, I cupped her breast as I moved in and out of her, each thrust nearly undoing me and unraveling her. She felt too hot, too wet, and too damn good. My mouth returned to hers. She was just as hungry, as greedy. She lifted her hips, urging me deeper, harder, faster. I held back, a laugh giving way to a groan as she cried out in frustration.

I lifted my head. “I know what you want, but…”

She pressed her hips fully against mine, and I shook. “But what?”

My jaw hardened as I locked eyes with her. “I want you to say my name.”


I moved against her in slow circles. “I want you to say my real name.”

Her lips parted on a sharp inhale.

I stilled inside her, heart pounding. “That’s all I ask.” My voice dropped as I toyed with her nipple. “It’s acknowledgment. It’s you admitting you are fully aware of who is inside you, who you want so badly, even though you know you shouldn’t. Even though you want nothing more than to not feel what you do. I want to hear you say my real name.”

“You’re a bastard,” she whispered, rolling her hips against mine.

I grinned. “Some call me that, yes, but that’s not the name I’m waiting to hear, Princess.”

Her lips pressed into a firm, tight line.

“How bad do you want it, Poppy?” I asked.

She gripped my hair, yanking my head down hard enough that my eyes widened. “Bad,” she seethed. “Your Highness.

That was not—

Poppy lifted her legs, folding them around my waist. Before I could even fathom what she was up to, she rolled me onto my back. She planted her hands on my chest and rocked back as if to rise, taking me so deeply inside her that I forgot my fucking name.

“Oh.” Poppy gasped, breaths ragged.

I stared at her through half-open eyes. “You know what?”

“What?” she whispered, her body twitching all around me.

“I don’t need you to say my name,” I told her. “I just need you to do that again, but if you don’t start moving, you might actually kill me.”

A sudden laugh left her. “I…I don’t know what to do.”

That soft chuckle. Those even softer words. My chest felt too fucking full as I grasped her bare hips. “Just move,” I told her, showing her what I meant. I lifted her up the length of my rigid cock and then brought her back down. “Like that.” I groaned at the heated friction of our bodies. “You can’t do anything wrong. How have you not learned that yet?”

Poppy followed my instructions, tentatively moving up and down as the snow continued to fall. Her breath caught. She moved her palm up my shirt as she pitched forward. Her moan was the best kind of agony. “Like that?” I breathed.

I gripped her hips tighter. “Just like that.”

Drawing her lip between her teeth, she rocked her hips, and with each torturous rise and fall, her movements grew more confident, and I became more enthralled.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she rode me. The pleasure on her face, in her parted lips and glazed-over eyes. The sway of her heavy breasts, the tips of them disappearing behind the shredded shirt, only to reappear as she found an angle that caused her to gasp. My gaze dropped to where our bodies were joined as she began moving faster, grinding down on me until she came. Watching her take control like this, finding her pleasure, was the hottest fucking thing I’d ever seen.

And it undid me.

I moved, rolling her beneath me again. Closing my mouth over hers, I thrust into her heat as she held on, her nails digging into my skin. Release barreled down my spine as I took her, slamming my hips into her as pleasure erupted. I stayed seated deep inside her, the intensity of the pleasure shocking.

Fucking gods, the release lasted a small eternity. I was still twitching deep inside her when I pressed my forehead to hers. We remained like that for some time, our bodies joined, my hand at her waist, my thumb moving idly as our hearts and breathing slowed. We stayed in the falling snow longer than we probably should have, but I was reluctant to leave her because she was…gods, she was mine.

The possessiveness was a little shocking. I’d never felt that way for anyone. My brow furrowed.

“I don’t…I don’t understand,” Poppy whispered.

“Don’t understand what?” I shifted slightly above her, lifting my head.

“Any of this. Like how did this even happen?”

I started to pull out, but I caught the sudden tightening of her features. I halted. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Yes.”

Poppy’s eyes were closed. I wasn’t sure I believed her. Worry grew. Had this been too rough? Had I been too rough?

“Are you sure?” I asked, rising onto an elbow.

She nodded.

“Look at me and tell me you’re not hurt.”

Thick lashes swept up. “I’m fine.”

“You winced. I saw you.”

Poppy slowly shook her head. “That’s what I don’t understand. Unless I completely imagined the last couple of days.”

“No, you didn’t imagine anything.” I scanned her face as she blinked the snow from her lashes. “Do you wish that this, right here, hadn’t happened?”

Her gaze darted away and then returned to mine. “No,” she whispered. “Do…do you?”

“No, Poppy. I hate that you even have to ask that.” I turned my head to the side, unsure what to say. To put to words anything I felt. “When we first met, it was like…I don’t know. I was drawn to you. I could’ve taken you then, Poppy…”

The truth of that was something I hadn’t allowed myself to see until that moment. I could’ve taken her the night at the Red Pearl. When she left there. Or when she snuck off to the library. I had so many chances. I would’ve found a way out of the city. She would’ve fought me, but she wouldn’t have been able to stop me.

I shuddered. “I could’ve prevented a lot of what has happened, but I…I lost sight of a lot of things. Each time I was near you, I couldn’t help but feel as if I knew you.” I thought of what I’d tasted in her blood. A part of me had recognized what was in her. “I think I know why it’s been like that.”

At least, I thought that explained the strange sensations I felt when around her. We didn’t always recognize half-Atlantians in such a manner, but there’d been stories of such—of the eather in our blood recognizing the eather in others.

I felt Poppy shiver, and it suddenly occurred to me that we were half-naked in the snow.

“You’re cold.” I rose above her, tugging my breeches up as I ignored the sharp pain when the tender skin on my chest pulled. I fastened what buttons remained, then extended a hand to her. “We need to get out of this weather.”

Poppy had sat up, holding the torn sides of her shirt. She hesitated and then placed her hand in mine. “I tried to kill you.”

She said it as if I’d forgotten, and I had to fight a grin as I pulled her up. “I know. I can’t really blame you.”

Her mouth dropped open as I knelt, grasping her pants and lifting them to her hips. “You don’t?” she asked.

“No,” I said. I had blamed her, but then again, I’d been angrier with her for running out here. “I lied to you. I betrayed you and played a role in the deaths of people you love. I’m surprised that was the first time you tried.”

Poppy stared in silence.

“And I doubt it will be the last time you try.” I lost the fight, and one side of my lips curled up as I tried to fasten her pants. Unfortunately, there were no buttons left. “Dammit.” I then tried to, well, do something with the shirt. That wasn’t working either. I cursed again. Reaching up, I pulled off my tunic. “Here.”

Poppy was still standing there, looking at me as if I were the most confounding individual she’d ever met.

I probably was.

“You’re…not mad?” she asked.

Our eyes locked. “Are you not still mad at me?”

“Yes,” she answered without hesitation. “I’m still angry.”

“And I’m still angry that you stabbed me in the chest.” And then ran from me, but whatever. “Lift your arms.”

Poppy did as I said.

“You didn’t miss my heart, by the way. You got it pretty good,” I admitted. It had definitely been more than a nick. I pulled my shirt down her arms. “That’s why it took a minute to catch up to you.”

“It took more than a minute.” Her voice was muffled for a moment, and then her cute, irritated expression appeared.

She didn’t need to know exactly what had delayed me. It hadn’t been the stab wound. It had been Kieran. “It took a couple of minutes,” I said, tugging down the sleeves.

Poppy looked down at the shirt she now wore and then at my chest. The wound was bright pink, the flesh a little jagged. “Will it heal?”

“It will be fine in a few hours. Probably sooner.”

“Atlantian blood,” she rasped.

“My body will immediately start to repair itself from any non-fatal wounds,” I explained. “And I fed. That helped.”

Her hand went to her throat before she quickly jerked it away. I raised a brow. “Will anything happen to me from…from you feeding?”

“No, Poppy. I didn’t take enough, and you didn’t take enough of mine earlier,” I assured her. “You’ll probably be a little tired later, but that’s all.”

Poppy was once more fixated on my chest. “Does it hurt?”

“Barely,” I told her.

She lifted a hand, placing it flat against my chest. I stilled. She wasn’t going to—

Warmth splashed my chest, rippling through my body in soft waves. It washed over me, taking with it the pain of the wound and the anguish that lived deeper.

A tremor rocked me as my jaw loosened. She’d taken the pain away. I couldn’t believe her generosity.

Hand trembling, I placed it over hers. “I should’ve known then,” I said, voice thick as I lifted her hand to my mouth. It was stained with both of our blood. I kissed her knuckles.

“Known what?” she asked.

“Known why they wanted you so badly that they made you the Maiden.”

The skin at the corners of her mouth pinched.

“Come.” I held on to her hand as I started walking.

“Where are we going?”

“Now? We’re going back inside so we can get cleaned up and…” I saw she had to hold up her pants. I sighed. I really should’ve taken my time with those buttons. Turning, I dipped, threading an arm behind her knees. I lifted her to my chest. “And, apparently, to find you some new pants.”

Poppy blinked rapidly. “These were my only pair.”

“I’ll get you new ones.” I strode forward. “I’m sure there is some small child around here who would be willing to part with their breeches for a few coins.”

I grinned as her brows snapped together.

“And after that?” Poppy insisted as I stepped over a thick branch.

“I’m taking you home.”

“Home?” Her breath snagged. “Back to Masadonia? Or to Carsodonia?”

“Neither.” I looked down, my smile spreading wide. It was the kind of smile that hid nothing. “I’m taking you to Atlantia.”


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