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Lightlark: Chapter 39

PROMISE

They knew. All of them knew.

The secret she had kept for her entire life, the reason she had been trapped inside her room, the one thing that would make her the number one target at the Centennial.

Because Oro had told them.

The pain was a hand unraveling her insides.

No. This couldn’t be real.

He had said he had never lied to her. He had said she could trust him. He had gotten kinder, more caring—

Fool. Even now, she was defending him. Even after he had ruined her chances at breaking her curse and saving her realm.

Oro had sentenced her to death. He had used her. This was real.

One moment she was in the throne room, watching the look of horror on Celeste’s face. Watching Cleo take a step toward her. The next, she was on the other side of the Mainland, down the cliff, on a beach.

Grim still clutched her hand.

Grim. He was the reason she wasn’t dead. But how did he—

Isla must have looked confused, because he said, “My flair.”

His flair. This was what it was.

It was a dangerous power. Isla thought Grim could simply turn invisible—she had never imagined he was able to travel across the island within a single breath.

She remembered his proclamation on the beach, then.

I could take you back to Nightshade lands with me right now.

Did the other rulers know? Or did they simply suspect he had made her invisible?

What was clear was that he had risked his flair being found out, for her.

“Thank you,” she said, tears prickling the corners of her eyes. “I—”

He watched her carefully. His eyes were crowded with worry.

Of course. Grim knew her secret now.

Did he think less of her?

She took a step back.

Did he regret potentially revealing his flair to save her?

She felt ashamed. Weak. Foolish.

“I knew,” he said gently.

A second. Another. “Knew what?”

He stepped closer. Until he was right in front of her. He pressed two fingers to her chest. Pushed. She shivered. “I knew that you aren’t bound by the curses. And that you’ve never wielded power.”

Isla’s entire world blurred, tilted.

He knew.

“What?” She imagined her emotions were a tidal wave of feeling, fear and shame and surprise and anguish dueling each other.

“Nightshades . . . our powers include curses. I can sense all the others. I knew from the first time I saw you that you weren’t bound to them.”

She remembered how he had saved her from eating the rest of the heart, demanding it be taken to her room during the first dinner. He had known then.

He had known the entire time.

“I’m not a danger to you, Isla,” he said, voice firm. Eyes clear. “I would never hurt you. Or divulge your secret.”

“Why?” she said, breathless. Why wouldn’t he tell the others? Why hadn’t he given her up the moment he had sensed that she wasn’t bound to the curses?

Grim grinned then. It was unnerving the way, even in this moment, it made her insides puddle. “Because we’re monsters, Hearteater,” he said. “Or, at least, that’s what they think.” His grin widened. “And monsters stick together.”

I am the monster.

The puzzle began to form. Grim’s immediate fascination with her. His pursuit of her, without fear of her curse.

The parts of her that had recoiled in fear now settled. Half of her felt bare and broken in front of him. Flawed. Powerless.

But the other half slackened in relief. He knew her secret. And hadn’t told anyone.

She had suspected him of using her during the Centennial. But he hadn’t. Every interaction with him had been genuine.

Her lips quivered. She willed them to stop, but they didn’t.

Grim took a step forward, feeling her everything. Her sadness. Her lingering self-hatred. He squinted at her, confused, then trailed his knuckles down her cheek. A tear had fallen, and she hadn’t even noticed.

“Grim . . .” she said, voice unsteady. “What’s wrong with me?” A ruler born without power was an oyster without its pearl.

Grim’s eyes flashed with anger. “Nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong with you, heart,” he said.

Then he took her into his arms. She stayed there, trembling.

“I think they’re going to kill me,” she said quietly, then looked up at him.

He surprised her by smiling. He placed his hand carefully against her cheek. “If anyone makes a move to harm you, I will ruin them and their entire realm.” His fingers trailed down her face, past her throat, then tugged gently on the pendant at the end of her necklace. “Pull this,” he said. “And I’ll be there.”

Isla believed him.

She believed only him.


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