Home > The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(17)

The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(17)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Everything was a hazy, fuzzy array of shadows and splotches of light. I blinked several times, half-afraid my eyes wouldn’t open again, but they did. My vision cleared. Soft light from a gas lamp flowed across gray walls and an old, worn chair—

A chair that wasn’t empty.

A male was slumped in it, his skin a beige-brown, his dark hair cropped close to the skull. He rubbed at his eyes, and a strange feeling took root in my chest, a sensation I tried to grasp. But whatever it was kept slipping through my fingers. I was too starved to concentrate. I needed…

The male sighed and my muscles tensed. My legs curled up, and the ache in the pit of my stomach and my chest grew and grew. Throat constricting, my heart started to thud heavily against my ribs as the hunger seized me. I wasn’t aware of moving, of sitting up, until hair fell over my shoulders, causing my skin to pinch. The man lowered his hand.

Shock splashed across his features and against my heated skin like an icy rain shower. My legs tucked under me, tensing.

He leaned forward, gripping the arms of the chair until the tendons popped, and his veins… “I can still feel your notam.”

His words didn’t matter. Hunger pierced my chest as my chin dipped, and my lips peeled back. My entire being focused on his throat, on where I swore I saw his pulse pounding.

“Shit,” he whispered, rising.

I shot off the bed and launched myself at him. Stumbling back, he caught my wrists. The back of his knees hit the chair. Off-balance, he fell into the seat, and I went with him, straining forward as I scrambled into the chair. “Gods. You’re fast. And you’re really strong,” he grunted, his arms trembling as he held me back. Strands of coppery-red hair fell across my face as I lifted my head.

He gasped, his blue eyes widening. “Holy shit.”

I threw myself onto him. The chair groaned under our combined weight. One of his arms caved, and I went for his throat, my mouth stretching wide, stomach clenching—

An arm folded around my waist, catching me. Another banded across my breasts, hauling me back against hard, warm skin. A static charge passed during the contact, startling me. That feeling…that smell of spice and pine. A keening, whimpering sound tore its way from my throat as I stretched out, trying to grasp the male as he jumped from the chair, his black tunic wrinkled and stained with…with something. Blood? My blood. I stared at him, sensing that he was not mortal. He was something else. Something that belonged to me.

“You don’t want him,” a voice danced over my ear. “He won’t be as tasty. You want me.”

“In any other situation,” the male with wintry blue eyes said, “I might be offended.”

Hunger lashed at my insides. Desperation blistered my skin. I was starving, and it hurt. Everything ached. My skin, my bones, my muscles. My hair. A low, humming sound came from deep within me, finally forming rough, guttural words. “It hurts.”

“I know. You’re hungry. But you can’t eat Kieran. That would make me a little sad.”

I didn’t care if it made him sad. I threw my head back, connecting with his jaw. He grunted, but his hold on me didn’t loosen. It only tightened.

“Careful,” the one called Kieran said. “She’s stronger.”

“I got her,” he bit out, holding me tight to his front. “You should probably put some distance between you and her.”

The other didn’t move as the one who held me shifted an arm, lifting his wrist over my shoulder. A scent hit the air. My heart sped up as I stilled, breathing deeply. It smelled wonderful, lush and decadent. The gnawing ache intensified.

“Her eyes,” the other said as the one holding me lowered his arm—his wrist. His bleeding wrist. “They’re not black. They’re still green.”

The male stiffened against me. “What?”

Forgetting about the one in front of me, I grabbed the arm and struck, closing my mouth over the two open wounds and drawing in deeply. The male jerked and gasped. “Gods.”

The first taste of his blood was a shock to my senses, tart and sweet. His blood coursed down my throat, warm and thick. It hit the hollowness in my chest, the empty pit in my stomach, easing the ache. I moaned, shuddering as the cramping in my muscles began to fade. The red-tinted shadows in my mind started to thin, and fragments of thought began to break through the hunger. Pieces of—

A hand curled under my jaw, lifting my mouth from his wrist. “No!” I panicked. The painful hunger surged back to life. I needed—I needed more.

“Look at me.”

I fought against his grip, bucking against his hold, but he was strong.

The male turned my head. “Stop.” His breath danced over my lips, and something about his words was different, softer, deeper. It echoed through me. “Stop fighting me and open your eyes, Penellaphe.”

His voice pierced through the hunger as it had before when I was drifting in the darkness. My breathing slowed as my body obeyed his command. Amber eyes stared into mine, bright and churning with golden flecks. I couldn’t look away—couldn’t move even as a barb-edged surge of anguish flooded me.

“Poppy,” he whispered, those strange, churning eyes glimmering with dampness. “You didn’t Ascend.”

I knew his words should make sense. A distant, fragmented part of me knew that I should understand. But I couldn’t think past the hunger—couldn’t focus on anything but that.

“I don’t understand,” the other male said. “Even with the blood of the gods in her, she was still mortal.”

The one who held me shifted his hand from my chin and touched my lips. The urge to snap down on his finger rode me hard, but I couldn’t fight him. The hold he had on me wouldn’t allow it as he gently pushed back my upper lip.

“She doesn’t have fangs,” he said, his gaze quickly returning to mine. I felt…I felt the tartness of his confusion give way to the earthy, woodsy sensation of relief. “I know what this is. It’s bloodlust. She’s experiencing bloodlust, but she didn’t Ascend. That’s why you still feel the Primal notam.” He slipped his thumb away and shuddered. “Feed,” he whispered, letting go.

Bindings I couldn’t see or feel left me. I could move. He lifted his wrist once more, and I latched on to him. My mouth sealed over his wound again. The blood wasn’t flowing as freely as before, but I drank deeply anyway, drawing him into me.

“Careful,” the other…the wolven warned. “You’ve given a lot of blood and haven’t nearly taken enough.”

“I’m fine. You should leave.”

“Not going to happen,” the wolven growled. “She may hurt you.”

The one who fed me let out a rough chuckle. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned about her well-being now?”

“I’m concerned about both of you.”

The male sighed. “This could get…intense.”

There was a beat of silence. “It already is.”

Something about what the wolven said and the raggedness in the way the one I fed from spoke should have concerned me. And it did a little. I wasn’t sure why, but I was lost again in the one who held me, in his taste and his essence. I barely felt him move, sitting down and gathering me close in his lap, cuddling me against his chest as he kept his wrist against my mouth. All that mattered was his blood. It was an awakening. A gift sparking through my veins, filling that empty hollowness once more and reaching into the darkness of my mind. The thick film of blackness there cracked, and tiny pieces of me trickled in.

His fingers grazed my cheek, catching the strands of my hair and tucking them back over my shoulder. I tensed, but when he didn’t pull me away, I relaxed. He touched me again, gliding his fingers through my hair in soothing, comforting caresses. I liked that. Touch was…it was special to me. It had once been forbidden, but he…he had shattered that rule from the beginning.

“Poppy,” he whispered. Poppy. That was me. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice ragged. “I’m sorry that you woke in this state and I wasn’t here. I think I…I must’ve passed out. I’m so damn sorry. I know what bloodlust feels like. I know that you can lose yourself in it. But you’ll find yourself again. I don’t doubt that for one second. You’re so strong.” His fingers continued moving along my scalp, and my grip on his arm loosened as he spoke. The taste of his blood was everything, and with each swallow, the void in me lessened, and the shadows in my mind cracked even more.

“Gods, I hope you truly understand how strong you are. I’m constantly in awe of you. I’ve been in awe of you since the night in the Red Pearl.”

The ragged breaths evened out. The racing of my heart and pulse started to slow, and behind my eyes, I saw colors—a blue, cloudless sky and warm sunlight. Black waters that shimmered like pools of obsidian, and sandy dirt warm under my feet. Palms joined, and him whispering: “Unworthy.” These images, these thoughts were his as he spoke softly.

“You’re brave, so damn brave. I realized that at the Red Pearl. To be the Maiden, to be raised as you were, and to still want to experience life told me that you were brave. That night on the Rise, when you went up there in that…that damn nightgown?” His chuckle was rough. “You didn’t hide. Not then, and not when you went out to ease the pain of those cursed by the Craven. You’ve chosen things for yourself longer than you realize, Poppy—longer than you give yourself credit for. You always did when it mattered the most, and did so knowing the consequences. Because you’re brave. You were never the Maiden. You were never truly helpless. You were smart, strong, and brave.”

He exhaled heavily. “I don’t think I’ve told you this. I didn’t get the chance yet. When you asked me to kiss you under the willow? Deep down, I knew then that I would give you anything you asked for. I still will. Whatever you want,” he promised roughly, his fingers tangling in my hair. “You can have it. Anything. Everything. You can have it all. I will make sure of it.”

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