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Two Twisted Crowns: Part 2 – Chapter 20

Elm

The first thing Ione did when they got to the yard was hand Elm the full flagon of wine she’d smuggled out of the great hall. The second was to rip her dress.

She used both hands, tearing the neckline down to her sternum, destroying the stifling collar. The fabric made a sharp sound, buttons flying, powerless against her impressive yank.

Elm stopped drinking. “I could have helped with that.”

Ione gave her version of a smile, which was hardly a twitch of muscle in the corners of her mouth. Maybe it was all she was capable of. Or maybe she simply didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of making her smile. She took the wine back. “Developed a taste for removing my clothes, have you, Prince?”

That shut him up. Elm looked away. He wanted to break things. And her, ripping her dress like that, only maddened the desire.

“Is this what you usually do,” she asked, watching as he took a discarded javelin off the ground and shattered it against a nearby sparring post, “when you’re drunk and angry?”

Elm snatched the flagon out of her hand. “Among other things.”

“Such as?”

He met her gaze over the rim. “Can’t you guess?”

If the Maiden allowed Ione a flush, it was too dark in the yard to note it. She sucked her teeth. “I hope you don’t plan on talking to Farrah Pine the way you talk to me. She’s sweet.”

Elm handed her back the wine. “You don’t care how I talk to Farrah Pine.”

She sighed. “No, I don’t.”

Another javelin, shattered. “Just as well. I won’t be speaking to any of the women on my father’s list, her included.”

“You had an easy enough time back at the great hall,” Ione said. “For a moment, you almost sounded charming. If not a little—”

“Roguish? Utterly irresistible?”

She drank, a bead of red liquid lingering on her bottom lip. “Angry. Under it all, you sounded angry.”

Elm stepped closer, suppressing the urge to run his finger under her lip and wipe the wine away. “I am angry. I think, if I’m honest, I’ve been angry all my life.”

Ione’s eyes were honed, searching the pages of him. When the silence between them sharpened to a point, she took a deep breath. “Then be angry, Prince.” She handed the wine back to him. “It looks well on you.”

“Careful.” Elm brushed his thumb along the flagon’s wet rim—where her mouth had been. “That sounded an awful lot like a compliment.”

“I prefer to think of it as advice.”

“I’m sure you do.” He took a drink. “But you’ll forgive me if I have a difficult time taking advice on how to feel from a woman who can’t even muster a smile.”

She gave half a shrug. “Give me something to smile about.”

“I can think of a few.”

He saw it in her eyes—the flash of surprise. The widening of her pupils. And while the Maiden shielded her expression, it didn’t mask it entirely. There were still glints of something. Ione Hawthorn could feel something, of that Elm was certain.

She ignored his remark with a dismissive tilt of her chin. “I used to smile. I had little lines here.” She ran a finger, a gentle brushstroke, from the crease in her nose to the corner of her mouth. “From laughing.” She touched the outside of her eye. “Here as well. They’re gone now, of course. But I used to smile. I used to laugh.”

Elm’s eyes remained on her face, the smoothed-out terrain of her skin. “I remember,” he said quietly.

She scowled up at him and snatched the wine back, the dark liquid sloshing in the flagon. “No, you don’t. I’d wager all my money you never once glanced at me before Equinox.” She winced down a gulp. “If I had any money to wager.”

Wagers, barters, games. That’s what it boiled down to with Ione Hawthorn. Every look was a challenge, every question a test, a measurement. To what end, Elm wasn’t certain. But it made him tighten, chest to groin, knowing he wanted to play her games. And maybe it was the wine, or the way those hazel eyes pinned him in place, but he wasn’t ashamed to admit he’d do terrible, terrible things to win.

He fixed his mouth with a lazy smile. “Just as well you have no money. I’d take every last coin.”

Ione watched him over the lip of the flagon. “You’re full of shit, Prince.”

Elm stepped closer to take the flagon back. Only this time, his fingers folded over hers along the silver handle. He leaned in, his voice a low scrape in his throat. “You don’t think I noticed you, Ione?”

A breath hastened through the slim part between her lips. “Not before the Maiden. Men like you do not take pleasure in yellow flowers when there are roses in your garden.”

“I don’t take pleasure in either—horticulture’s not exactly a strong suit.” When she rolled her eyes, Elm tightened his hand over hers. “Wager something you do have, if you’re so sure.”

Their faces were close now. So close Elm could see the frayed threads along the collar where Ione had ripped her dress. They danced along her throat, her sternum, the swell of her breasts—moving with the rapid up-and-down tide of her breathing.

His eyes lifted to her face. She was watching him. And though her mouth bore no smile, there was a glimmer of satisfaction—of triumph—in her hazel gaze. “A kiss,” she murmured. “If you can prove you remember me before Equinox, I’ll kiss you. If you can’t—I get five minutes with your Scythe.”

When he found it, Elm’s voice was rough. “No kiss is worth five minutes with a Scythe. Not even from you.”

“One minute, then.”

The urge to reach out and snag her face, to press the tips of his fingers into her cheeks and watch her lips part for him, took considerable effort to banish. Elm caught Ione’s hand instead, slapping his palm against hers in a handshake. “Deal.”

No one was there to see them slip out of the yard into a servants’ passage. The long, winding corridors housed only shadows. For the time it took for them to reach the cellar, Elm and Ione were utterly alone, as if the castle belonged only to them.

“Please don’t be locked,” Elm muttered when they reached the door.

The handle to the cellar turned.

The hearth hadn’t been lit, and the dogs were elsewhere. Elm moved to the shelf, the space so familiar that, even half-drunk, he had no trouble finding a lantern and the fire striker.

The flame bloomed, too bright, then dimmer. Ione stood in the doorway. “What is this place?”

“Somewhere we won’t be overheard.” Elm headed back to the door. When he passed Ione, he made sure no part of his body touched hers. “Light a fire, will you? I prefer to be comfortable when I play games and win wagers.” He turned toward the stairs.

“Where the hell are you going?” she called after him.

The indignation in her voice made the corner of Elm’s mouth curl. “A Chalice, Miss Hawthorn. I’m going to fetch us a Chalice Card.”


The fire was alive and breathing by the time Elm got back. Ione sat on her knees, stoker in hand, tending the flames. There was soot on her fingertips. “You took your time.”

Elm’s arms were full. A Chalice Card, a new flagon of wine, a silver cup, a loaf of olive bread stolen from the kitchens. The last item was from the library—an hourglass he and Ravyn used when they played chess. “I came prepared.”

He hurried to the hearth, the castle’s chill settling over him like a varnish. He sat cross-legged in front of the fire, opposite Ione, and opened his arms, the hourglass rolling onto the floor.

Ione picked it up. “What’s this for?”

“Parameters.” He set the flagon of wine, then the cup, between them. “It’s dangerous to use a Chalice for too long. Even if you don’t lie.”

“You enjoyed my inquest so much you’d like a repeat?”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “We’re looking for your Maiden, are we not? I thought we might go over Equinox night. Parse the memories you have of your Card. You were drunk, yes?”

Her voice was clipped. “Yes.”

“And so your memories may not hold true. I’m hoping the Chalice will stop you, if you venture into a memory that might be false. If it proves unsuccessful, there are other Cards in my father’s vault that may help us narrow our search.”

“If it’s my memories you want, why not use the bloody Nightmare Card my father gifted the King?”

Elm pulled the Chalice Card from his pocket. “This,” he said, waving it in her face, “was in the armory, left over from yesterday. The Nightmare Card is currently being used in Hauth’s chamber by the Physicians attempting to revive him. Would you like to go there and ask them for it?”

Her mouth drew into a fine line.

“Neither would I. And so, we begin with the damn Chalice.”

Ione ran a finger over the curved shape of the hourglass, tilting it so that a few grains spilled into the second half. “It feels rather unfair, seeing as I’ve already endured an inquest, to be the only one put under the Chalice.”

“You won’t be. I’ll be joining you.” When the corners of Ione’s mouth twitched, a smile slid over Elm’s mouth. “How else am I to prove I remember you and win our little wager?”

“Then let us be equal. For every question I answer about Equinox, you must answer one of your own.”

Elm was aware, somewhere in the back of his head, that this was a terrible idea. He had far too many secrets, and none of them pleasant. But the cellar was warm, and the wine he’d consumed in the yard had settled into him. He didn’t want to break anything anymore. This terrible idea felt unreasonably good.

“All right.”

“Any topics you wish me to avoid, Prince?”

Ravyn. Emory. The Shepherd King. His childhood. His brother. His father. The impending doom of his life, should he be forced to marry a stranger, forced to become King—

Elm swallowed. “Nothing is off-limits.”

Ione tapped her fingers on the stone floor. “And our wager? When do I get my minute with your Scythe?”

“That,” Elm said, a low laugh humming in his throat, “we can save for last.” He dipped the flagon, filling the cup with wine. “Think of it as a reward.”

That seemed to please her—not that her face showed it. But she lifted her chin and stretched her arms over her head, loosening herself. Then she turned the hourglass over and placed it on the stone floor between them.

The sand began to fall. Elm took the turquoise Card into his palm and kept his eyes on Ione. “Ready?”

She nodded. He tapped the Chalice, watching Ione’s throat as she tipped her head back and drank from the cup. When she winced down the wine, she passed it to him.

Elm hesitated only a moment, partially because the Chalice always turned the wine sour, partially because of the low, hot twinge in his gut that told him, after this, there was no going back. Once laid bare to Ione Hawthorn, he would forever be laid bare, just as Ravyn had laid himself bare to Elspeth.

And look where that had gotten him.

Elm winced at the thought. Then, before Ione could note his hesitation, he threw his head back and drained the cup. The wine coated his tongue, so bitter he coughed. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I hate that part.”

“Under a Chalice often, Prince?”

“Mercifully, no. And that,” he said, pointing a finger in her face, “was your first question. Now it’s my turn.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Where’s your Maiden Card?”

Her sigh came out a low, irritated hiss. “You’ll have to do better than that, Prince. I simply don’t know.”

Elm crossed his arms, feeling like a sullen boy under her withering stare. “How is that possible?”

“It’s my turn.” Eyes never leaving his, Ione pressed a finger into her bottom lip. Weighing. Measuring. “Why didn’t you go with your cousin Ravyn and the others this morning?”

“Straight for the throat, then.” Elm ran a hand over his face. “I wasn’t invited to join them. Forbade, actually.”

“Why—”

“My turn, Hawthorn.” This time, he chose his words well. “What can you remember from Equinox?”

Ione’s expression remained smooth, though her shoulders stiffened. “I remember sitting on the dais, just as I did tonight. Everyone was coming up to offer Hauth and me congratulations on the engagement. There was talk of my father’s Nightmare Card. I was trying to speak to Hauth—trying to know him. But for every question I asked him, every bit of exuberance or enthusiasm I tended, I gained a bit of his scorn.”

Her voice quieted. “I saw it, plain on his face, that he didn’t know how to talk to me, merely look at me—and only after I was using the Maiden Card. He said, like I’d surprised him in an unpleasant way, ‘You are very animated, Miss Hawthorn.’”

“He’s a bloody idiot.”

Ione didn’t seem to hear him. “I was nervous, and Hauth kept signaling servants to fill my goblet. I drank, and the rest of the night is fuzzy, measured only in glimpses. I remember I was cold—that there was cracked stone beneath my hand.” Her voice softened. “Mostly, I remember the sharp feeling of salt in my nose.”

Elm’s gaze snapped to her face. “From the mist? Or something else?”

Ione lifted an idle finger to her torn collar, tracing the frayed edge. Just like in the corridor last night, when the subject of losing her Maiden Card on Equinox was broached, she didn’t meet Elm’s eye.

He’d assumed she’d misplaced it in a state of celebratory folly. But the salt, and this—this reluctance to look at him—

Something felt wrong. Very wrong. Like Elm had opened a door he shouldn’t have. A door that kept dark, unspoken things tucked away.

He had a door of his own just like it.

“Hauth,” he said, his voice dangerously low. “Hauth used his Scythe on you, didn’t he?”

Slowly, Ione nodded. “He made sure I was drunk first.” She refilled the cup and took a deep drink. “I woke the next morning in his room, still wearing my Equinox dress. And the Maiden your father gave me—I was still under its influence. But the Card itself,” she opened an empty palm, “was gone.”

Elm’s jaw ached with strain. “Did he—”

“He didn’t touch me. He made a point to tell me he hadn’t. Not to show restraint or respect—merely to let me know he could have, had he wanted to. And would, whenever he liked.” Ione drew in a long, tired breath. “He wouldn’t tell me where he’d made me hide my Maiden Card. I pleaded, but he didn’t relent. He said it would be easier, being his betrothed, if I didn’t feel things so keenly.”

Her eyes returned to Elm. “Your brother seemed to understand, better than I’d realized, that he was a brute, and that I, his future wife, carried my heart upon my sleeve. He decided, without hesitation, that I should be the one to change and not him. That life would be infinitely better for the both of us if I simply felt nothing at all.”

Every word came out a curse. “He’s a brute,” Elm said. “He does whatever it takes to make a brute of everyone he comes across. That’s what he likes.” He thought about touching her but held back. He didn’t think she’d want to be comforted by a Rowan.

He held her gaze instead, reaching into the ice behind her eyes. “I’m sorry he did that to you. I’m sorry no one stopped him. I’m sorry you didn’t feel safe enough to say anything.” His voice softened. “Trees, Hawthorn, I’m sorry.”

Ione’s eyes widened. She went completely still but for her thumb, which ran in slow circles along the rim of the cup. “Is that what happened to you?” she said, her voice hardly a whisper. “No one stopped him—no one was safe enough to tell?”

And there it was. The coal deep within Elm. The beginning of his inferno, his rage. Anger, a lifetime in the making. “You’ve heard the rumors, then.”

She nodded.

He dragged a hand over his face and heaved a long, rattling breath. “Ravyn,” he managed. “Eventually, I told Ravyn what Hauth was doing to me.”

“And he took you away?”

Elm nodded, slipping his hand into his pocket, his fingers dragging against velvet. His eyes stung, anger licking up his throat. “When my mother died, I inherited her Scythe. Suddenly, I wasn’t just a boy Hauth could beat and break and use his own Scythe on. I could protect myself. So I did. I became better with the red Card than he’d ever been.” His smile was derisive. “And he hated me all the more for it.”

Ione’s thumb had stopped moving on the rim of the cup. Elm forced himself to look at her, daring her to feel sorry for him.

But there was no pity in her hazel eyes. She handed Elm the wine. “My girlish fancies of marrying a Prince were quick to die. Your brother’s charm was skin-deep. The real Hauth beat and clawed his way through life.” Each word was the prick of a pin. “Sooner or later, someone was going to claw him back. And my dearest cousin, or what is left of her, was merciless in the task.”

“I’m not sorry he’s broken—only that it was not me doing the breaking.” Elm took a deep drink. “Does that make me wicked?”

“If it does, you and I are the same kind of wicked.”

The tangled mess in Elm’s chest eased. It surprised him to note that the hourglass was over halfway empty—that he had held a candle to the darkest part of himself, and not once had he tried to lie about it.

Ione’s brow furrowed. “Why did it take you so long to inherit a Scythe?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said you inherited your mother’s Scythe. But there are four Scythe Cards. And the Rowans own them all.”

“An old lie.”

Her brows perked. “You don’t own all four Scythes?”

Elm shook his head. “We only carry three. One for the King, one for my brother, and one for me. Wherever the fourth Scythe rests, it is not with us. We make like it’s in the vault, but it isn’t.” He took a swill of wine. “I had a lot of catching up to do when I finally inherited the red Card.”

“But you did catch up,” Ione said, watching him intently. “Quickly.”

Hair fell into Elm’s eyes. He pushed it back. Cleared his throat. “I’ve forgotten whose turn it is to ask a question.”

Ione grabbed the wine out of his hand. “Yours.”

“If Hauth was hell-bent on keeping you under the Maiden’s magic, he’d likely make you hide your Card somewhere no one else might touch it. Do you remember going anywhere secluded? Somewhere in the gardens—the vaults—away from the crowd?”

“It’s no use, Prince. The only clear thing I remember is salt, and cracked stone beneath my hand.” She paused, her tongue passing back and forth over her inner bottom lip. “I have a blurry memory of spinning torchlight. I was dancing in the garden with Hauth. There were other male voices nearby. When Hauth dropped my hand and I fell, they laughed. Grasped at me.”

Venom pooled in Elm’s mouth. Whatever Ione saw in his face, it was enough to make her pause. “I am unharmed, Prince. All in one piece. One icy, heartless piece.”

“That isn’t funny.”

“Don’t grit your teeth so hard. I didn’t expect we’d discover my Card within the hour.” Her eyes dipped to the hourglass. “There are a few moments left. Let’s talk about something different. Something besides my Maiden.”

Elm rubbed his palms on his knees. “Ask me anything.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two vexing years. And you?”

“The same. Though I imagine my years were easier earned than yours.” Her gaze shifted over his black tunic, then back to his face.

Elm studied those hazel eyes. “The way you look at me from time to time—it’s as if you’re searching me. What exactly are you looking for?”

“Maybe I find you handsome.”

His lips quirked. “But that’s not the only reason you look at me.”

Ione’s expression was smooth, carved out of marble, giving nothing away. “And me, Prince? Do you find me beautiful?”

Elm’s laugh chafed his throat. “There’s not a person in this castle who doesn’t.”

“That’s half an answer.”

“So was yours.”

Her eyes narrowed. Slowly, Ione said, “I’ve been looking for Hauth in your face. For temper or cruelty or indifference.” She leaned forward. “But I can’t find any. I see guile, tiredness, fear. Anger, without a trace of violence.” She drew in a breath. “You are both Rowans—and less similar than I ever imagined.”

Elm felt something deep within him stir. He leaned back, resting his weight on his arms, ready to steer the conversation as far away from his brother as it could go. “You said you can’t feel anything anymore. Yet I’ve watched your cheeks go pink. You feel heat, cold. Pain. What else can you feel?”

The light in the cellar was dim—but not dim enough to mask the faint flush in Ione’s cheeks. “I c-can’t—” She snapped her mouth shut, tried again. “N-n-noth—”

The Chalice didn’t let her lie. What intrigued Elm was that she’d tried to. “Don’t fight it.”

She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and scowled. For a moment, she looked like she might waste her breath again on lying. But then she took another drink of wine and said, “Desire. I can still feel desire.”

Elm sat up on an exhale. “And how, Miss Hawthorn, did you discover that?”

“It’s my turn to ask.”

He opened his hands, offering himself up.

“Do you know where my mother and brothers are?”

The right question. But the wrong choice of words. “No.” Energy pooled in Elm’s palms. He tapped his fingertips on the floor. Wine. He needed more wine. “What kind of desire?” He dragged the cup out of Ione’s hands and refilled it, watching her over the rim as he drank. “Spare no detail.”

He didn’t miss the way her eyes flew to the hourglass. The sand was almost gone. She could wait it out—punish him with silence and not answer the question. He deserved it, of course, the subject of desire decidedly unPrincely—

“My skin feels overwarm. Especially here,” Ione said, running her thumb down the center of her mouth. “And here.” Her fingers trailed over ripped fabric below her collarbone. “Here.” She lowered her hand, pressing it into her dress, just below her navel. Her eyes lifted, crashing into Elm’s. “Between my legs. A thrumming, unquiet ache. A cruel trick of the Maiden, I think. My body is the same as it ever was. I can feel all the physical sensations of attraction. But my heart remains…locked.”

Elm’s mouth went dry, the hazy edges of his vision hurtling into sharp focus. He’d watched her hand go down her body—felt his own body respond. Wherever that unquiet ache was, he wanted to find it. Touch it. Put his mouth on it.

He swallowed, his words so rough they scraped out of him. “Do you feel it now?”

When her eyes stayed on his, he knew the answer.

Elm dropped his gaze to the hourglass. Empty. He ran the tip of his tongue over his bottom lip. “It’s time, Hawthorn. Our wager.”

Ione folded her arms in front of her. “Where’s your Scythe?”

Elm retrieved it from his pocket, twirling it between his middle and index fingers.

“All right then, Prince,” she said, the needle returning to her voice. “Make your case. Prove you remember me before Equinox.”

He smiled. “Let’s see—which memory of Ione Hawthorn shall I pull from…” He took a long sip of wine, savoring the moment like he did before crushing Ravyn in chess. “How about when you were a girl and rode your father’s horse on the forest road without shoes, yellow hair in the wind, mud caked up to your ankles? Or perhaps a more recent time. Equinox, two years ago. No one asked you to dance, so you simply danced alone—rather well, I might add.”

Elm set the wine down and leaned forward. Even seated, he towered over her. “The smile lines, I was fond of.” His gaze traced the corners of her mouth, her eyes. “Your eyelashes were blonder. You had freckles and red patches of skin. A gap between your front teeth. Your eyes are the only thing the Maiden hasn’t altered too much. Only, before Equinox, they were happy.”

He dipped his chin. A sharp floral scent filled his nose. “You were the strangest girl I’d ever seen. Because no one at Stone is happy. They pretend at it, or drink, but the performance has its tells. But not you. You were…painfully real.”

Ione was frozen. Elm pulled back and slid the Chalice Card off the floor, holding it up between them. He wouldn’t gloat. But it would be very, very easy. “Game’s over, Hawthorn. Any last words?”

It seemed to hit her at once. What he’d said. That she’d lost their wager. “Go to hell, Prince.”

Elm laughed, deep and loud enough to shake the barbs in him. “You have a wonderful mouth.” He tapped the Chalice three times, severing its hold. “And now, it’s all mine.”

He hooked Ione’s chin between his thumb and index finger, the same way she’d held his in the dungeon, and leaned in, halting just before their lips grazed. When Elm whispered into her mouth, he made sure to touch her bottom lip with his thumb, where he knew she’d be warm. “You really thought I wouldn’t remember you?”

She had. He could tell by the flare in her eyes.

“All that talk of pleasure and warmth and that terrible, unquiet ache between your legs,” he murmured. “You painted such a pretty picture for me. And wouldn’t it be fun, denying me a kiss, had I lost our bet? To take my Scythe and render me helpless?” His top lip brushed hers. “Tell me, Hawthorn—does it make you feel something, toying with me like this?”

Her breath came in sharp, quick inhales. Her lips parted, and Elm’s thumb slipped over her wet inner lip. When she looked up at him, there was enough honesty in her eyes to render a Chalice useless. “Yes.”

“Then do it,” he whispered, gliding a hand up her spine. “Use me. Toy with me. Feel something, Ione.”

She lost a breath, and Elm sucked it into his mouth. That hazel gaze hardened a moment, cold and distrusting, but whatever Ione saw in his face was enough to make them thaw. She closed her eyes and leaned forward, pressing her lips against Elm’s in a hard, punishing kiss.

The cup clattered against stone. Elm reared forward, sweeping Ione onto the floor, her hair soaking up spilled wine. His mouth found her jaw. He dragged kisses across it, then down the column of her neck, breathing her in with unsteady gasps.

A hungry flutter of noise scraped up Ione’s throat, her hands frenzied. They grabbed at Elm’s face, his hair, the muscles along his arms. She caught his wrist on an inhale, paused a beat, then shoved his hand against her breast.

Elm moaned, his palm filled with her. He kneaded with unrestrained fingers, spurred by the quickening breaths that bloomed from Ione’s parted lips. She clearly wanted him to be rough with her. And he could. It was what he was most familiar with.

But if he was rough, it wouldn’t last. And for a reason he had no time to work out, Elm wanted it to last with Ione Hawthorn. He softened his grip and slowed his hands, trailing them down to the undersides of her breasts, feeling the weight of them.

Then, so quick all Ione could do was gasp, he pushed them upward, meeting the pearl-soft skin with a kiss.

Her nails scraped through his hair and she arched her back, impatient. Her scent filled Elm’s nose, sharpest in the line between her breasts. He ran his mouth slowly over them, between them. She smelled of magnolia trees and fields during the first summer rain. Heady, sweet, wistful.

It undid him. For a moment, he lost focus, every thought bowing to Ione and her smell and her thrumming ache which, sometime between collecting her at Hawthorn House and there, on the floor of the cellar, had become Elm’s ache as well.

He tried to kiss more of her, but her dress—that stupid fucking dress—was in the way. He reached for her torn collar, gripping the fabric with both hands.

Their eyes met, bleary and wild.

Ione seemed to understand. “Tear it off,” she said. “Now.”

Elm brought her bottom lip into his mouth. Pressed it with the tips of his teeth. “Beg me to.”

She inhaled, to kiss or curse him—

A noise in the room pulled Ione’s focus, her eyes darting to the cellar door. Which was now open.

Filick Willow, with his hounds and books, stood, wide-eyed, arrested at the threshold.

Elm dragged his hands off Ione and shot the Physician a murderous glare. “Are we no longer knocking, Filick?”

“I—I did knock.” Filick’s gaze flew to Ione. “Apologies, Miss Hawthorn, I’ll just—” He hurried out of the room, leaving his dogs behind. One of them settled into his bed of hay in the corner. The other came over, tail wagging, and licked Elm across the face.

He reached for Ione, but she was already off the floor and on her feet, wine in her hair. “He’s not going to say anything,” Elm said, adjusting himself in his pants.

She hurried toward the door. “Wait, Hawthorn,” Elm called after her. “Ione. Wait.”

She didn’t.


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