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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ose then, the ruby crown dangling
from my fingers. “Make sure she knows that I am
the Chosen, the One who is Blessed, and I carry
the blood of the King of Gods in me. I am the
Liessa to the wolven, the second daughter, the true
heir, owed the crowns of Atlantia and Solis. I am
the Queen of Flesh and Fire, and the gods’ guards
ride with me. Tell the Blood Queen to prepare for
“Bravery is a fleeting beast,
isn’t it? Always there to get you into trouble, but
quick to disappear once you’re where you want to
people I will ever know as my parents were killed
to prevent this moment. I was left dead and scarred
because of my birthright and forced to wear the
veil because of my bloodline. My brother was
Ascended because of it. I’ve had years of
controlling my own life taken away from me.
Innocent people have died because of what is
owed to me. I almost died. And on the way here,
we were attacked. None of that has stopped this
moment from coming. The Crown belongs to me
and my husband, and I believe you already know
Casteel stopped, turning to me. His fingers
touched my cheek, just below the scars. He guided
my gaze to his. “You’ve faced Craven and
vamprys, men wearing masks of human flesh,
creatures without faces, and stared down
Atlantians who wanted to harm you with the kind
of strength and bravery most lack,” he whispered.
“Remember what you are. Fearless.”
“The villain is always the
hero in their story, aren’t they?”
finished looking at you. Do you know how
beautiful you are? Have I told you that today?”
“Very few men don’t want to make war,
while nearly every woman wants to end it. Most
would believe the former causes the most
bloodshed,” she said, running a finger over the
ruby petal. “They’d be wrong. The latter is always
the bloodiest, and always requires a great sacrifice.
But, sometimes, no matter how many measures
one takes, or how much they are willing to
compromise, war cannot always be prevented.”
“Those words—that title—are important to us
because it means that from the blood of those who
have fallen at the hands of the Ascended, and from
the ash of all they have destroyed, we will still
rise.” She cocked her head to the side. “To us, it
says that despite what they tried to do to us, we
were not defeated. And because of it, we will rise
“My wife is far humbler than I am,” Casteel
asserted, and there was a soft, barely audible but
recognizable snort from behind me. The corners of
my lips turned down as Casteel’s gaze slid to
mine. “If I were capable of doing what she did, I
would have my greatness inked on my skin.”
“Really,” I replied dryly. “That sounds
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