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Nightbane: Chapter 40

BEFORE

The bath was almost full. The water was murky, darker than a bog. She could see the pillar of water from his bedroom.

“Medicinal,” Grim said gruffly. “Helps with healing.” He began to shed his clothing, revealing deep gashes that would have been deadly for anyone without a ruler’s power.

They had visited the cave five times. Each visit, they uncovered another enchantment designed to keep thieves out. Grim always took most of the impact, but that day, when a million ice chips had rained down from the ceiling, some had cut down her arms, face, and back before he’d pulled her out of the way.

Isla winced as she reached to pull her starstick from its place against her spine. Her skin was coated in blood. Her vial of healing elixir was steadily running out. She would have to sneak into Poppy’s quarters while she was sleeping if she wanted to get more.

“Stay.”

The word was followed by silence. It was said matter-of-factly. Flatly.

“Stay?”

Grim was down to just his pants. His chest was a canvas of gashes, blood, and, of course, the mark oh so close to his heart. “The bath is big enough for two. It will help you not scar.”

Isla just stared at him.

He didn’t leer or make a suggestive comment. It seemed he was too tired to even say anything worth glaring at him over.

“I’ll face the other direction.”

Isla found she was too tired to turn down the offer of a warm bath with healing properties. But . . .

“I can’t,” she said. “Remember?” It seemed like years since they had dueled.

Before she could say another word, Grim said, “I take back my win. You’re welcome in every part of my palace.”

Isla told herself it was shock that made her step into the bathroom. True to his word, at least this time, Grim turned around. She did too.

The sound of his pants being discarded seemed to echo through the vast bathroom. Then, the sound of water parting, letting him in, settling around him.

She didn’t check to see if he was facing away as she peeled her own clothes off. It was a painful process. Fabric stuck to her wounds, blood making a most inconvenient adhesive. She made a small sound of pain and hoped he didn’t hear it, though she knew he heard everything. The shuffling of her pants being rolled down past her ankles. Her fingers unraveling her braid.

The groan as she placed a leg into the tub, chills sweeping up the back of her calf and up her spine, burrowing into the crown of her skull.

Grim was very still as she lowered herself completely. All she saw was his back, tight in its rigid posture, his shoulders nearly as wide as the tub itself. Everything else was hidden beneath the dark water, swirling with healing enchantment.

“You can turn around,” she said. He did not move an inch. “The water . . . it covers everything.” It was true. The only part of her that was visible was her head, framed by wet hair, her shoulders, and collarbones.

Seconds passed. Tripped over themselves. Finally, though, he turned.

She was pressed against one side. He was pressed against the other. The tub was enormous; they might as well have been on opposite sides of the room. They just stared. No words were exchanged, but she saw an understanding there. Two people who had fought back-to-back for something they both wanted more than almost anything. A chance to save their people.

The water became clearer and clearer, the medicine dissolving, until Isla crossed her legs, pressed them to her chest, and looked away when Grim did no such thing.

Isla was still looking away as she heard him stand, the water scattering just like anything in Grim’s path always did, and he left.


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