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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 38

THE SERPENT

Livia found me beneath Nightfire and his lover. Half the moon was buried in murky clouds, and added a brighter glow to the edges of the lost star.

“Wanting to be alone?” She strolled through the gentle laps of sea on the sand, feet bare and a wisp of a dress over her body. Thin linen, shoulders bare, a few laces keeping her breasts covered.

I’d never seen a more beautiful creature in my life.

“No.” I scooted to one side and smoothed out the sand near me. I rested my forearms over the tops of my knees and kept my eyes locked on the symbols in front of me as she nestled close.

“What is this—bleeding gods.”

“I often have the same reaction when I come out here,” I said, venom laced my words. “My father’s burial marker often stirs all types of emotions and exclamations.”

“I didn’t know it was here.” Livia hesitantly traced the pearl stone, the symbols of Thorvald’s title.

His body was long gone in the seas, but Harald erected his marker the moment we’d returned to the Ever. Untended since my uncle’s death, now thick sea moss coated the backside, and grass and briars climbed the edges like knobby fingers desperate to drag it to the hells below.

“What brings you here?” Livia rubbed a thumb between my brows, smoothing out the tension.

I shrugged, uncertain how to gather the words.

Livia tilted her head to my shoulder. “Nightfire is closer than ever to his lost love.”

“Seems that way.”

“I wonder what he will tell her once he finds her?” Livia slid her hand around my arm, holding me closer. “I’m sure she will want to hear everything he keeps inside.”

This damn woman. I kissed the top of her head. “Sly, Songbird. I’ve got you figured out, though.”

“You carry me through fears, Erik. I’d like to lift you through burdens, that’s all.”

I let my cheek fall to the top of her brow. “I came here to . . . curse my father, I suppose. Perhaps try to ask him why he did all this. I hate him, but there is still this weak part of me that still wishes I had a drop of approval.”

Livia rubbed her hand up my arm, tracing the scars beneath my tunic. “It isn’t weak, Erik. He was your father.”

“He knew he had abandoned a child, one with a fearsome voice. Did he truly think, was he so arrogant, that he believed the boy would simply accept losing his birthright? Gods, the least he could do was even admit I was not the firstborn so I could be on my watch.”

Thorvald was a coward in my eyes. A wretched father to not one, but two sons. I felt little sympathy for Larsson, but I understood what it was like to live in the shadow of Thorvald’s resentment and regret. “I keep thinking if he’d not been such a weak-spined creature, he would’ve raised Larsson, taught him not to use his voice for viciousness. He would’ve left my mother alone, and she’d be alive.”

“Erik.” Livia tilted my chin, urging me to look at her. “But you would not be here, and so many other lives would not be full. There are times when you see yourself through the short-sighted vision of King Thorvald. He saw you for your birthright, and what a shame, for he missed knowing his extraordinary son.”

“Are you coddling me, Songbird?”

“Let me, just this once.” She stroked the hair on the back of my neck. “I wish you could see yourself through the eyes of others. Like mine.”

I scoffed. “And what do you see?”

“I see a cunning man.” She kissed my shoulder. “A rather ruthless swordsman.” Another kiss to my jaw. “I see a strong king who fights for those who do not always fight for him.” Livia kissed the corner of my mouth. “I see a beautiful black heart that has swallowed me whole.”

She pulled my mouth to hers. Her tongue slid through my lips, brushing mine. I clasped the sides of her face, drawing her body over mine on the sand.

I tucked her hair out of her eyes. “I am going to stop this, love. I am going to claim my peace with you. That is what I want, not the blood crown, not the title, not the palace—a life with you, uninterrupted.”

“That, My King, is a thing worth fighting for.”

Our hands were hurried, fumbling with each other’s clothes until there was nothing between us. Livia flattened a palm on the sand. Snaps and creaks of brambles and vines coated Thorvald’s grave marker entirely. She crashed her mouth to mine, mumbling between kisses, “This is not for him to see.”

Sprawled over our clothes, we rolled, caged in each other’s arms and legs. Livia pinned my shoulders to the ground, her hips straddling mine. I kissed her breasts, her throat, whispering the words I wanted to shout across the seas—mine, eternal, stunning, wicked—she was all of it.

Livia ran her hands across my chest, the deep scars from beatings and torture. Her lips followed. Halfway down my stomach, she rolled her eyes to meet mine. “You’re the most beautiful sight, Serpent.”

Prepared to argue, words choked off when her plump lips surrounded my cock, drawing me in deep. My fingers wove into her midnight hair, throat bared. Livia tortured with her wicked mouth, licking and devouring, until pressure gathered, low and deep. Until my thoughts turned to fog.

Until every memory, every instance of swift passion in the past faded, replaced only with Livia. Her scent, roses and sea mist. Her hands, gentle and loving. Her skin, soft and warm.

“Love . . .” I rocked my hips. “I’m going to—”

There wasn’t time to pull back before I was spent on her tongue.

Her name tore through our solitude as I came apart. My head fell back, my arms collapsed at my sides. When I stopped panting, Livia kissed me. I tasted the musk of my release, and curled her in my arms, holding her close.

Somewhere in the lazy strokes of our hands, in the tangle of our legs, words flowed without burden. We drifted to the past, to those nights after the war. She told me how she’d sliced her fingertips countless times trying to shape my songbird charm.

I told her of the instant Tait and I were found, huddled in the trees, after the war ended, how we were led through the great hall of the earth fae fort. I told her something drew me to look at the little royals seated at the table, and my eyes focused on a girl with sea blue eyes.

Livia went on about lazy summers on the lakes and ponds behind the Night Folk castle, making me vow that we, too, would sail out in the coves and do the fishing for our own meals from time to time.

I told her more about my mother, the way her hair shone in the sunlight. The way she’d always kissed my nose and tapped it every damn night before sending me off to sleep.

Livia told me how most nights, horrid dreams sent her racing to the bed of her parents, where the earth bender and his queen would move aside, snuggling her deep in the center between them.

Words faded by the time dawn broke along the horizon.

“Your turn, love,” I whispered, rolling her body under mine, and pressing my palm over her chest.

I kissed her then. Kissed her until her body trembled in my hands, until her pants matched the same sounds she’d drawn out of my throat. We faced a battle, danger was not gone, but for a few moments, I lost myself in the peace for which we were fighting.

Days as these, wrapped around Livia Ferus, these were the days I wanted. I’d kill for them, torture, raid. There was no cost too high for more days like these.


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