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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 27

THE SONGBIRD

There were differences between this arrival and the time I’d stepped into the main palace hall for the first time. It wasn’t that I now clung to Erik Bloodsinger with ease instead of fear, it wasn’t that the coaches had driven both sea fae and earth fae into the gates, it was a feeling in the palace.

Somber and joyful, tenuous and bright. As though courtiers and villagers were pleased with the arrival of the royal ship, but they knew what it meant—more battles were coming.

Alistair awaited us in the wide hallway, pompous as ever, ill-fitted in his blue silken doublet and trousers, but there was a twitch to his thin lips when Erik barged through the doors. The old steward bowed at the waist.

“Welcome home, My King.” Alistair’s dull eyes landed on our entangled hands. “And to you, My Queen.”

My heart fluttered when more than one courtier loitering in the hall bent at the knees or waist. A few witches and sirens studied Jonas, Sander, and Aleksi. When he’d arrived, Alek had been a source of curiosity and attraction to many of the folk in the royal court. Now, there were more earth princes to ogle.

When Jonas gave up his cunning half grin, the courtiers snickered and bunched together with their hushed delight, hiding their plump lips behind their satin gloves.

Folk hushed at the sight of Stieg and my father.

A few murmurs of earth bender rumbled over the stones of the hall.

I’d hardly thought long on the truth that Valen Ferus was a killer of an Ever king, nor how the people of the royal city would react to his presence.

Erik was unbothered, ignoring most who greeted us, and spoke quickly to Alistair. “We have guests, visiting royalty. See to it they’re fitted into suitable chambers.”

The old steward blustered. “Perhaps, My King, and this is merely an idea, a suggestion, one might send a note to announce vast royalty would be in attendance.”

“Alistair,” Erik said, voice smug. “Did you not chatter my ear off before all this wretchedness began about how the palace would be ready to accommodate earth fae?”

“That does not sound like me.”

Erik leaned closer. “See to it, or shall I have someone else oversee the task?”

“Threats are useless, Highness. Banish me all you please, I’ll not comply. By the by, before you all retire, and—gods, I beg of you—go wash, I thought our Lady of the Ever might wish to see something.”

Lady of the Ever. I swallowed through the knot in my throat.

“Don’t ask me, old man.” Erik’s hand fell to the small of my back. “Ask your lady. Her voice bears the same weight as mine.”

Truth be told, I wanted to slip away to our chambers and not emerge for no less than a month. Still, I nodded at Alistair. “I’d like to see.”

The steward sniffed, turning before I could fully catch the satisfaction on his face, and led us toward the throne room. Blood had been scrubbed off the floor from the wickedly beautiful night when Erik made me his queen. The polished tiles swirled in a coil from the edges of the room to the center, like a whirlpool on the sea. Sconces were alight and brightened the pale stone walls.

On the dais beside Erik’s dark mahogany throne, was a second seat, complete and stunning. Vines of ivy ran along the armrests. Sunbeams, thorns, and rose buds shaped the high back, and on every edge, were small foxes racing along the wood.

“Are you pleased?” Alistair asked with anticipation.

“It’s beautiful,” I choked out.

Erik pressed a tender kiss to my palm. Mira and Celine made swift remarks on the craftsmanship, and how well-suited the throne looked amidst all the horridly gawdy tapestries and furnishings from Ever Kings of old.

My father was stoic, lost in thoughts I didn’t want to disturb. Not until we’d had time to let this new life settle. Rest, food, a wash, as Alistair suggested. Then, we could speak.

Satisfied by my praise, Alistair clapped his hands, ushering a swell of palace servants to tend to the new arrivals.

“Daj is an enemy here,” I whispered to Erik. “He killed a king, and everyone knows it.”

Erik’s eyes flashed. “He is also the father of our queen. I think I have made it clear—in this very room—what becomes of anyone who harms my queen, Songbird. Should he be hurt, you would be hurt.”

A throat cleared. Alistair, nose in the air, stepped beside us. “Mind the intrusion, but I shall tend to the earth king personally. I assure you, I would stand little chance should I attack the man. Then, there is a feast to be had for this new unity, naturally. Ire has a way of dimming with a good meal, a spritely tune, and the king’s wine.”

He strode off before we could argue. I’d long since learned Alistair served the palace, but it would be rather pointless to stand in the man’s way should he have a plan.

“He’ll tend to Daj and Stieg because everyone else looks terrified of them,” I whispered.

Once my friends and family were paired with an attendant, Erik led us to the study with a polished wood desk, a widespread window overlooking the sea, and one of the king’s tricky hidden passages in the walls.

My insides heated until the burn ached between my thighs by the time Erik pushed through the wall and into the outer chamber of the king’s wing.

Someone had lit the strange blue fire in the inglenook. Sweet wine and dark rum were set out on a wooden tray on the table, and steam spilled from the washroom.

A dozen memories of this room already reeled through my mind. The arguments, the shift between captor and captive to lovers, the joy and passion. All of it spun in my head until we stopped in front of the washroom door.

Erik fumbled with the handle. “We can wash, then—”

He didn’t finish before I shoved his back to the wall. I kissed him. Fiercely. My teeth scraped over his lip. Erik thrust his fingers into the tangles of my hair, tugging my head back all to give him the angle he demanded. I arched my hips into his, groaning against the hardness of his body.

“Wash all you like,” I said between breaths. “So long as I am there with my hands on your skin.”

“Gods, woman,” he cursed and tugged at the dirty shift, rusted over in old blood.

We were worn, cut and slashed, but there was little thought to any of it as I peeled his belt away, as Erik sloughed off his boots. Frantic fingers worked laces on my bodice, and buckles on his trousers.

“You have open wounds,” I whispered between kisses, stealing a glance at the bandage over his ribs. “Don’t allow your blood to poison me until I get a little more of you, Serpent.”

His grin brushed over my mouth. “Tavish has tricks not even a boneweaver knows—the wraps clot the blood with a spell, love. Don’t pick at it, and it should hold through plenty of movement.”

Patience lost, Erik gripped the edges of the bodice and split it at the seams until it fell away. The cool air against my skin pebbled my nipples. He let out a hiss of desire before nudging my back to the doorframe and covering the peak with his lips.

Sharp, needy gasps spilled over my tongue. I held the back of his head, drawing him closer. Erik sucked and lapped at my skin. His teeth scraped over the point as he bit down on the tip, flicking his tongue.

My core throbbed. I bucked into his hips, already desperate for release. His touch was a beautiful curse, one taste, and I could never get enough.

I hooked my thumbs into the waist of his trousers and shoved them over his hips. His cock sprang out. Erik groaned into my breast when I curled my hand around the velvet skin and stroked.

“Songbird.” He lifted his head, eyes like gold fire.

The king straightened and placed his palms on either side of my head. He studied my hand around his shaft, rocked his hips, lips parted, and watched, drunk on desire, as my thumb ran over the narrow slit until his arousal beaded over the head.

“My hand,” I whispered by his ear, “or my mouth?”

Erik let out a moan; his forehead dropped to my shoulder. “If you think I’m going to come before you after all this, you’re mistaken.”

I let out a shriek when Erik scooped me up beneath my thighs, hooking my legs around his waist, and carried me into the washroom. A bath had been drawn in the deep stone basin. Doubtless Alistair and all his preparations would be the one to thank.

Erik placed me on the edge of the basin and made quick work of sliding the damp rag of the torn shift over my head.

On his knees, trousers still seductively low on his thighs, the king sat back on his heels, taking me in. Once, being exposed and bared in such a way, I might’ve felt a flush of embarrassment. It had never been so with Erik Bloodsinger. His gaze, his touch, his passion, all of it unlocked a need to meet him with much the same.

The inky black of his pupils dilated when I slid my palms down my thighs, spreading my legs on the edge of the stone tub, baring myself.

Erik cursed and drove a hand between my thighs. His rough fingertips teased me with every flick, every touch. I let my head fall back when he dragged his tongue over my chest again, kissing his way down my belly. His fingers curled inside me, and I was undone.

“Erik.” My chest ached from the rough breaths. I cared little and hooked one leg over his shoulder. “Why are you still clothed?”

Erik paused, gently eased my leg to the side, and rid himself of his bloody top. I sucked in a breath. There, down his chest, I could now see plainly the still-healing gash over his heart. He hugged an arm around my waist, pulling me closer, and gently slid his palm over the same scar between the cleft of my breasts.

“Listen to me, love,” Erik whispered against my lips. “Whatever that bastard thinks he took from us, he failed. I belong to you, every wretched piece of me. I’ve no need for spells or bonds to prove it. I choose you, Livia Ferus. For much longer than my last breath.”

Tears lined my cheeks. “Your words help, Serpent.”

I kissed him, deep and sweet. With less frenzy, Erik eased me into the water, only pulling back to finish kicking off his trousers, then covered me with his body, steam coiling around our faces.

For a moment, his fiery eyes drank me in, gleaming with the vicious kind of need I’d always loved, those moments when he planned to stake a possessive claim over me. The tips of his fingers traced the planes of my face, the curves of my breasts, my belly, until his fingertips teased the folds of my entrance.

My head fell back against the edge of the basin. I let my knees fall open. Gods, I’d been starved of his touch too long. Anticipation for the musk of his earthy taste made my mouth drip with want. I reached for him again, but he shifted, avoiding my touch.

Erik nipped my jaw. “What did I say? You first.”

“Bastard,” I groaned when he added a second finger and set a vicious pace.

An intoxicating sort of numb spread over my body, no thought, no worry, no fear, only him. The calluses of his hands, the tension on my skin, the ebb and flow of his touch.

Beyond my control, my hips bucked with every glide of his hand. Water splashed over the rim of the basin onto the floor. Erik pressed the tip of his thumb against the sensitive apex of my core, and a grin split over his mouth when I whimpered, taut and ready to break.

“Prove my words true,” Erik growled, a dark ferocity written on his features. “You’re mine.” He circled his thumb with more focus, thrust his fingers deeper, and lowered his voice to a dangerous tone. “Make certain every damn soul in this palace knows it.”

I shattered.

Water thrashed around us, my body trembled, and his name tore from my throat. With haste, the king swallowed the sound with a bruising kiss. He worked his fingers in and out until my body went lax.

I pressed a palm to my brow, gasping. “Satisfied? You won.”

Erik grinned with a touch of villainy and kissed the slope of my neck. “Not even close, love.”


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