Home > A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash #2)(15)

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash #2)(15)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

“On second thought, my mother is definitely going to like you,” Hawke murmured, and right then, he was Hawke.

That was the bemused tone I was all too familiar with, and it threw me enough that it took a few moments to recover, to remember that it was simply another mask. “Why? Because I didn’t throw it at your face this time?”

“She’ll most likely be amused to hear that you have done exactly that,” he said, and my brows knitted. “And she will be happy to know that you are capable of showing restraint.”

“Now, I wish I hadn’t shown restraint.”

Casteel chuckled, and that too sounded so familiar, but it was Casteel’s laugh that faded. It was his golden eyes that held an intense look of fascination. He was both Hawke and Casteel, but it was the latter that I now dealt with. He leaned forward in his chair, lowering both bare feet to the floor. “You are so incredibly beautiful when you’re angry.”

I refused to be flattered by that somewhat weird compliment. “And you’re so incredibly disturbed.”

“Been called worse.”

“I’m sure you have.” I folded my arms across my chest.

He rose from the chair, and for a moment, I got a little lost in all the bronze skin on display. “We’ll talk tomorrow about our future—”

“There is no future to talk about. We’re not marrying,” I cut in.

“I think you’ll find my reasonings impossible to refuse.”

“Nothing is impossible.”

“We’ll see.”

“No, we—what are you doing?” I demanded as he walked to the other side of the bed. “What are you doing?”

“Getting into bed.”

“Why?” My voice pitched high.

He arched a brow as he pulled the blanket aside. “To go to sleep.”

“I figured that out, thanks. But why do you think you get to sleep in the same bedchamber, let alone the same bed with me?”

“Because, as I explained earlier, this is my bedchamber.”

“Then I will find another room.”

“There are no other rooms available, Princess.”

My hands dug into the blanket as my mind raced. “This isn’t appropriate. I’m the Maiden. Or was. Whatever. I’m the definition of appropriate.”

He stared at me. “Besides the fact that you are not the definition of appropriate, everyone in this keep knows that we’ve already shared a bed, Poppy.”

“Well, that’s just…” My face burned. “That’s just great.”

“I’m not leaving you alone.”

“I’m not going to try to escape! I promise.”

“I hope you don’t think I’m foolish enough to trust your vow.” Casteel picked up a rather flat pillow and fluffed it. “So, either it’s me in here, or it’s Kieran. Would you rather it be him? If so, I will summon him for you.” He tossed the pillow toward the head of the bed. “But just so you know, he often slips into his wolven form and has a habit of kicking in his sleep.”

My lips slowly parted. “What? Wait. I don’t need an explanation of that. I don’t want Kieran.”

The hint of a smile was pure wickedness. “You want me.”

“That is not what I said. You can sleep on the floor.”

“I am not sleeping on the floor. And before you say it, neither are you.” He slipped into bed with enviable grace. “No matter what you think you know of me, I hope you realize that I would never force myself on you, nor would I compel you to do something like that. I won’t ever do something you don’t want from me, and that’s not just because I know what that feels like,” he said flatly, and my heart squeezed. “It’s because I’ve never been that kind of person.”

“I don’t think you would do something like that,” I said quickly. And I didn’t want to know. I…needed to know. “What did they do to you?”

“That’s not something I really want to get into, Poppy.”

I opened my mouth and then closed it. I could understand that. Respect it.

And as I remained where I was, I thought about what Kieran had said earlier about me being safe with the Prince. Unfortunately, I also remembered the effects of his blood, and how I all but begged him to touch me.

Not one of my finer moments.

Casteel had refused, though. He could’ve easily taken advantage of the situation, but what had he said? That he wasn’t a good man, but that he was trying to be one. I thought of the shame I had felt inside him. He was both the villain and the hero, the monster and the monster-slayer.

But I wasn’t afraid of him trying something with me. I was more afraid of myself—scared of how much my heart was pounding. The night we had been together, falling asleep in his arms had been…it had been just as beautiful as what we’d shared before that.

Only it hadn’t been real.

The problem was that my heart didn’t seem to understand that, at least not all the time. That was why it was pumping so fast now. To some—probably to most in the kingdom—sleeping beside someone didn’t mean much of anything. But to me? It was as life-altering as holding hands, being able to openly touch another, or sharing dinner with someone—things other people often took for granted.

That was why sharing a bed with Casteel was dangerous.

I watched him let the blanket fall to his waist and then fold his hands under his head. Once he appeared comfortable, he said, “But, just so you know, if you want my lips on any piece of you, I’m more than willing to appease you.”

My mouth dropped open.

“And my willingness to comply extends to my hands, my fingers, and my cock—”

“Oh, my gods,” I cut him off. “You don’t have to worry about that. I will never request your…your services.”

“Services?” He tipped his head toward me. “That sounds so dirty.”

I ignored that comment. “You and I are never going to do anything like what we did before.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

“Would you say it would be…impossible?”

“Yes. It’s definitely impossible.”

Hawke smiled then, and it was Hawke’s smile. Dimples appeared in both cheeks, and I hated the catch I felt in my chest upon seeing them. Loathed that it made me see him as Hawke. “But didn’t you just say nothing was impossible?” he all but purred.

I stared down at him, at an absolute loss for words. “I want to stab you in the heart right now.”

“I’m sure you do,” he replied, closing his eyes.

“Whatever,” I muttered, accepting that I would have to deal with him. At least for the night or until I figured out how to escape. I scooted back, shoving my legs under the blanket. I threw myself down with enough force that it shook the bed.

“You okay over there? Sounds like you could’ve hurt yourself.”

“Shut up.”

He laughed.

With my back to him, I stared at the knife. The blade was bent. I sighed. A moment later, there was a click, and the room darkened. He’d turned off the oil lamp by his side of the bed.

His side of the bed?

We didn’t have sides.

I tugged the blanket to my chin as I shifted my focus to the fireplace. My mind wandered back to something that shouldn’t matter but did.

“Why did you tell me?” I whispered, not even sure if he was still awake or why I was asking. He’d already answered. “Why did you have to tell me that Hawke was your middle name?”

The fire crackled, spitting sparks, and I closed my eyes.

Seconds, maybe minutes later, Casteel said, “Because you needed to know that not everything was a lie.”

Chapter 7

With all the stress and trauma of the last several days, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the past found me in my sleep. Still, it was a shock to the senses.

Blood was everywhere. Splattered against the walls, running down them in thin rivulets, and pooling along the dusty wooden floor—under the lumps on the floor, misshapen and not right. The air was thick with the scent of metal. A smear of blue in the lamplight caught my gaze. A shirt. Hadn’t the funny man who’d served our food that evening been wearing a blue shirt? Mr. La…Lacost? He told us stories about the family of mice that lived in the barn out back, who’d made friends with the kitties. I’d wanted to see them, but Papa had taken us back to our rooms. He hadn’t been smiling or laughing at dinner. He hadn’t since we left. He’d sat at the table, his gaze darting to the window in between every quick bite of food.

But Mr. Lacost’s chest and stomach looked strange to me as I stood there, trembling. No longer round, it was sunken, jagged—

“Don’t look, Poppy. Don’t look over there,” came Momma’s hushed voice as she pulled on my hand. “We must hide. Hurry.”

She pulled me down the narrow hallway, her hand wet against mine. “I want Papa—”

“Shh. We must be quiet.” Her voice shook, sounding too thin. The arms of her dress were torn, the pale pink streaked with crimson. Momma was hurt, and I didn’t know what to do. “We must be quiet so Papa can come and find us.”

I didn’t understand how being quiet would help Papa come to us. It was dark in the room we entered, and the sounds, the ragged breaths and moans, the continuous shouts and cries were loud. Papa had gone outside when they came, went out there with the strange man who’d seemed to know him. I wanted my papa. I wanted Ian, but he had left with the woman who smelled like sugar and vanilla—

A shrill sound pierced the darkness. Momma tugged hard on my hand, yanking me down to where she crouched. She opened a large cupboard behind me as someone screamed. Pots clattered off the floor as Momma tore them from inside the closet.

“Get in, Poppy. I need you to get in and be very quiet, okay? I need you to be as silent as a mouse, no matter what. Do you understand?”

   
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