Casteel leapt down, immediately reaching for me. I took his hands and he lifted me from the saddle, placing me on the ground beside him. His hands slid to my hips and lingered.
I looked up at him, and he bent down, pressing his lips to my forehead. The sweet kiss tugged at my heart. His arm stayed around me as we turned.
Kieran and Jasper had stopped in front of us. It wasn’t them that had caught my attention. It was the wolven not in their mortal forms. They had followed us into the courtyard, and there were… gods, there had to be hundreds of them. They prowled along the stables and the estate. Dozens leapt onto the walls of the courtyard.
Others climbed the wide steps of the estate and stood between the pillars. They parted, creating a path between us and the bronze doors, but before Casteel or I could move, they shifted. All of them at once.
Fur thinned and gave way to flesh. Bones cracked and shrunk, fusing back together. Limbs straightened and claws retracted into nails. Within seconds, they stood in their mortals forms. There was a whole lot of skin on display. More than I ever needed to see.
My cheeks started to heat as I struggled to not look, well, anywhere. I started to ask Casteel what was happening, but the wolven moved simultaneously.
Right hands balled into fists. They placed them over the center of their chests and then sunk onto one knee, lowering their heads. All of them—the wolven in the courtyard, the ones on the wall, on the steps and between the pillars.
I felt a little dizzy as Jasper and Kieran turned to us and followed suit.
All of them bowed.
“They have never done that for me,” Casteel murmured.
Kieran lifted his head just enough for me to see he smirked.
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"We tried once - Casteel and I - when we were younger. We tried to take a ship as close to the coast as we could, to see if any part of the land was habitable," Kieran said. "We damn near drowned in the process."
"That's because you're both idiots," Jasper replied and I blinked.
Casteel took a healthy drink of whiskey. "Can't really argue with that."
"I know it sounds like something made up to scare children -"
"Like the limea?" I asked.
He stopped and looked at me, glass halfway to his mouth as Casteel coughed out a quiet laugh. His pale eyes shot to the Prince. "I don't even need to ask which one of you told her about that. Out of the things you could've shared with her, you chose that?"
"It was a passing comment in a wider, much more important conversation that she has somehow latched on and never forgotten." Casteel took a drink. "Not my fault."
"How could I ever forget about a creature that has fins for legs and tails for arms?" I wondered out loud.
Casteel's laugh teased the top of my head as he fished out another strawberry from the bowl of fruit and offered it to me.
"I am very intrigued by this imagination of yours."
"I'm sure you are," I muttered, taking the berry. "Want to know what I'm imagining now? I'm currently entertaining myself with images of kicking both of you in the throats."
Kieran's gaze swept over me, and still only in Casteel's shirt, I was sure I appeared as threatening as a sleepy kitten.
"Now I'm also intrigued," he commented.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing that," I whispered.
"Which part?" Casteel asked. "The shifting, or Kieran stripping?"
Naill snorted as he righted himself on the saddle, shoving Kieran's clothing into his bag.
"Neither," I admitted.
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