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A Fire in the Flesh by Jennifer L Armentrout


A Fire in the Flesh

by Jennifer L Armentrout

Published by Blue Box Press

Book 3 in the Flesh and Fire Series


The only thing that can save the realms now is the one thing more powerful than the Fates.


After a startling betrayal ends with both Sera and the dangerously seductive ruler of the Shadowlands she has fallen madly in love with being held captive by the false King of the Gods, there is only one thing that can free Nyktos and prevent the forces of the Shadowlands from invading Dalos and igniting a War of Primals.


Convincing Kolis won’t be easy, though – not even with a lifetime of training. While his most favored Revenant is insistent that she is nothing more than a lie, Kolis’s erratic nature and twisted sense of honor leave her shaken to the core, and nothing could’ve prepared her for the cruelty of his Court or the shocking truths revealed. The revelations not only upend what she has understood about her duty and the very creation of the realms but also draw into question exactly what the true threat is. However, surviving Kolis is only one part of the battle. The Ascension is upon her, and Sera is out of time.


But Nyktos will do anything to keep Sera alive and give her the life she deserves. He’ll even risk the utter destruction of the realms, and that’s exactly what will happen if he doesn’t Ascend as the Primal of Life. Yet despite his desperate determination, their destinies may be out of their hands.


But there is that foreseen unexpected thread—the unpredictable, unknown, and unwritten. The only thing more powerful than the Fates…



Genre:


Triggers:

Violence, Sexual Assault (not by love interest), Captivity


 

This series just keeps getting better and better.

And I say series, because Jennifer announced a while back that she figured out midway through writing this book that there was no way she could finish this story with just three books - which I called wayyyyy before her announcement. After finishing A Light in the Flame, I knew there was just too much left of the story to finish with only one more book. But with her announcement, I was a little worried that A Fire in the Flesh would be a lot of info dumping, and not a lot of action.

A Fire in the Flesh started out with a bang that sets up the rest of the story. Sure, there are quiet moments in this book. You learn a lot in this book. But so much happens, even those quiet moments, that it still feels fast-paced and action packed.


As for the story and world building, it was everything I hoped it would be. While I was initially worried that because Sera would be Kolis's captive we would not get much when it comes to further building on this world, I was thrilled to see that even behind bars, Jennifer made sure that the story didn't stall out. That even in the same setting, that in most cases would bore the reader, not once was I bored. There was always something going on.

The biggest thing was the character arcs for characters we haven't gotten much time with to this point.

We've been told Kolis is bad. That he did terrible things.

We've seen some of it in A Light in the Flame.

But we really get to see, and feel, the depths of his depravity in this book. Kolis is truly sick, and in a way that almost makes you feel bad for him. I haven't seen anyone mention it yet, but there are a few times where he seems to know how terrible he has become. Sera even points out that he seemed to accept what happened at the end of this book. Whether Kolis is an example of why primals need to sleep before madness sets in, or something else happened to him to twist him into this monster, who knows, but whether or not there are moments of clarity for him, he is a monster now.

I don't want to spoil anything if you haven't read it, but I need to spoil this one thing, as it can be triggering to some. But it was hard to read at times. While he doesn't rape her, and doesn't attempt to do so until in a rage at the end of the book, he does sexually assault her. He forces her to sleep next to him. He forces her to wear transparent dresses with nothing underneath. He touches her without consent.

He manipulates her by using her feelings against her.

He has her in a frigging cage.

He is a monster.

But Kolis wasn't the most interesting character in this book - that would be Callum. My best friend and I disagree on this. She thinks that he will turn out to be a good guy. That he will have a redemption arc of sorts, but it will be the final death for him. She really enjoyed his character this book.

I won''t pretend that I didn't also enjoy his character. His dry, sarcastic humor paired very nicely with Sera, so they had great scenes together. But I disagree on a redemption arc. I think with age, and countless deaths, and power, he is fully on Team Kolis.

The best part of this book - was it answered a pretty big question about the Blood and Ash series. A huge piece of information.

If I had any complaints about this book, it was that there was not enough Nyktos and Nektas - and NO Reaver or Jadis, which bummed me out - and that the last couple of chapters were just a little too cheesy for my tastes. Hot. Super fucking hot. But cheesy.


This is a hard review to write without spoiling anything! What else can I say? The writing was superb. It invoked all the emotions it needed to (I made a rather embarrassing tiktok of me crying reading this book), and it answered a lot of questions we had in regards to this series and Blood and Ash - while leaving enough to chew over for the last Flesh and Fire novel. Despite me missing some of my favorite characters, I think this book was the best in the series - which is saying something, because the last two books were also amazing. For theories for Flesh and Fire and Blood and Ash, look under the ratings below!




Theories for Flesh & Fire AND Blood & Ash! Obviously, spoilers are below. You've been warned!

  • OBVIOUSLY Poppy is Sotoria reincarnated. I'm feel like this book heavily pointed to that.

  • There is the tiniest moment between Attes and Sera that led me to think that Attes loved Sotoria. Whether they had a torrid affair behind Kolis's back, or he secretly pined for her, I don't know, but the flash of emotion he has after he asks Sera if she could feel Sotoria with her, and she said yes, and he vowed to save her - there is something there. I predict that sadly he will lose his life before the gets to truly see her free of Kolis, considering Theon is the God of Accord and War. I'm not crazy for thinking there can't be a Primal AND God of the same thing, can I?

  • As mentioned above, my best friend believes Callum will have a redemption arc. I don't think he will. If Poppy is the true reincarnation of Sotoria, than she looks like Sotoria. Callum would know it was her. And he has still done everything to support Isbeth and ultimately, Kolis. If by some twist he does have a redemption arc, he will save Poppy/Sotoria, but he will die the final death.

  • Kolis isn't going to try to capture Poppy/Sotoria like he did Sera. I think at this point, not knowing how long he was incapacitated, he will be out for blood - and wanting Poppy's primal embers.

  • Poppy will remember everything that Cas told her while in stasis. Sera heard Ash talking to her while she slept, so it would make sense that the same can be said for Poppy as well.

  • For my theories connecting Flesh and Fire/Blood and Ash to Fall of Wrath and Ruin, click here!






Attes turned to the doors.

Attes: “Oh, fuck.”


Ash: “Before it’s too late?”

Ash’s voice boomed, the power of it leveling what remained of the chamber walls.

Ash: “It’s already too late.”


Ash had killed another Primal.

Was that how it was done? Ripping out the heart and destroying the head? It was a grotesque and barbaric method.

And disturbingly hot.


A guttural, inhuman growl shook the cage.

Ash: “Get your fucking hands off my wife.”


Despite the dryness and pain, I swallowed, forcing my vocal cords and tongue to work.

Sera: “That… That was…so incredibly arousing.”

Ash froze for a heartbeat and then laughed roughly.

Ash:  “Keep your eyes on mine,” he said, grasping the band around my throat. “And do not move, liessa.”


Ash: “I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner, but I’ve got you now, liessa, and I won’t let go. I’ll never let go again.”


Ash: “You’re no King of mine.”

Lightning streaked from Ash, slamming into the tile floor and Callum, throwing the Revenant back. The scent of charred flesh rose.

Ash: “I could humor you by saying your sovereignty ended the moment you took her. But truthfully, you have never been my King.”


Kolis: "The embers of life do not belong to you.”

Ash: “She does not belong to you!”


Phanos: “Nyktos once took what belonged to me.”

My wide eyes and frightened gaze darted from the star-strewn sky to Phanos. He was speaking about Saion and Rhahar.

Phanos: “I should be amused to see something of his taken from him.”

With his featherlight voice, it was hard to hear him over the seething water.

Phanos: “But I find no joy in this.”


Kolis swiped a hand over his chest and looked down at his blood-smeared palm. He tilted his head and lowered his hand.

Kolis: “That was very unwise.”

Sera: “It was,”

I rasped.

Sera: “I probably should’ve aimed for the head.”


Kolis: “What?”

Kolis demanded, his fingers digging into the bite he’d left behind as he lifted me onto my tiptoes.

Kolis: “What will you do for him that you will not do for me?”

Sera: “Just about anything you can think of, but that has nothing to do with him. At the end of the day, I couldn’t care less about him.”

I forced out words that couldn’t be more untrue. My chest felt as if it were shrinking with each passing second. Kolis’s grip tightened, likely bruising, and I choked.

Sera: “I would do anything for literally anyone else—a random guard, another Primal, a corpse, a piece of grass…”

I wheezed.

Kolis: “I think I get the picture."


Kolis: “You are so incredibly foolish and reckless. Too bold and entirely too mouthy.”

Sera: “You…”

—I struggled for breath—

Sera: “forgot one…thing.”

Kolis: “And what is that? Disrespectful?”

Sera: “Sure, but…I’m also soon…to be dead,”

I wheezed.


One?

Kolis only had one guard stationed outside the chamber. Seriously?

I was kind of offended.


Kolis: “If you’re looking for the guard you senselessly murdered with an object typically designed to bring pleasure—though I must admit that was somewhat impressive -you will not find him.”


Kolis: “You’re not a prisoner.”

His head straightened, sending strands of golden hair falling against his shoulder.

Kolis: “You’re a guest.”

Sera: “A guest?”

I whispered.

Kolis: “A troublesome one,”

he amended in that same flat, arid tone.


Holland: “I know you feel like you’ve been given no choices in life,”

he’d said in that gentle way of his when he told me something he knew I didn’t want to hear.

Holland: “But every day, there is a choice to keep going, to face the future head-on or not. Every day, there is a choice to be honest with yourself or to lie. One will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and the other the easiest, but there is always the opportunity for choice if you don’t take the easiest path.”


I matched his smile.

Sera: “How did it feel when I slammed that glass into your throat?”

Callum: “Wonderful. Can’t you tell?”

Sera: “I don’t know much about whatever you are, but I have to imagine that coming back to life isn’t exactly pleasant, especially when you have numerous injuries to heal.”

His smile froze. I was right. My lips curved more.

Sera: “And I bet reattaching your head is painful, just as repairing your heart.” I lifted my brows.

Sera: “But your cock? How did that feel?”

Callum: “I have a question for you. How did it feel going through all that trouble, only to end up exactly where you were?”

My nostrils flared with a burst of anger.

Callum: “I bet it feels just as good as it did regrowing a dick. And by the way, that was totally unnecessary and brutish.”

I rolled my eyes.

Sera: “Disagree.”


Attes: “Honestly?”

Sera: “No, tell me a lie,”



Sera: “You have a real fucked-up, unhelpful way of showing your loyalty.”

He huffed out a laugh.

Attes: “You do wonders for one’s self-worth, you know that?”


Sera: “Yes, I get it. Her soul is the most important thing,”

I snapped.

Sera: “She dies, everything is lost.”

Attes’s head tilted. A moment passed.

Attes: “You matter, too.”

A bitter laugh left me, even as my cheeks warmed with embarrassment.

Sera: “You don’t need to lie.”

Attes: “I’m not.”


Sera: “You will back Nyktos on whatever he chooses and aid him in gaining allies,”

I began, my voice trembling slightly. Making demands such as these wasn’t something I was accustomed to.

Sera: “He will have your full support and that of your Court.”

Attes’s head tilted.

Attes: “Is that an order?”

My heart raced. At the end of the day, I was still just a mortal ordering a Primal to do my bidding. But the embers in me hummed intensely. I lifted my chin, swallowing.

Sera: “It is, even if you find yourself standing opposite your brother.”

Wisps of eather whipped through his eyes and lit up the veins beneath the skin of his cheeks. He angled his body toward me.

Sera: “You will swear it,”

I added, knowing a Primal could not break a promise once made. Energy ramped up, charging the air. For a moment, I thought I might’ve overstepped a smidgen. Or a lot. Probably a lot.

Attes: “Very clever,”

Attes murmured, then stepped forward and lowered himself onto one knee. Placing one hand over his heart, he bowed his head.

Attes: “With my sword and my life.”

Eather-laced eyes lifted to mine.

Attes: “I swear to you, the One who is born of Blood and Ash, the Light and the Fire, and the Brightest Moon, to honor your command.”


Attes: "Toria had a few meanings. One meant garden. Another could be loosely translated into pretty flower.”

He smiled then, but no dimple appeared, and I couldn’t help but think of what Sotoria had been doing when she died. She’d been picking flowers.

Attes: “But a more exact translation is poppy.”  

Sera: “Like the mortal flower?”

I thought of the ones that had started to grow again in the Shadowlands.

Sera: “Or the silver ones?”

Attes: “I believe it once referenced the mortal flower, but it could’ve been describing either.”

My brows lifted.

Sera: “So, Sotoria’s name could be translated into my pretty…”

A strange shiver curled its way down my spine.

Sera: “My pretty poppy?”


Attes: “Do you feel her now?”

His throat worked as his gaze found mine.

Attes: “Sotoria’s soul, I mean.”

His question was strange to me, but I lifted a hand to my chest. I didn’t hear her as I had previously, but there was a flicker of something that wasn’t an ember. An awareness of someone there, watching and listening.

Sera: “Yes.”

Emotion flickered across his face, too fast for me to determine what it was or even be sure I’d seen anything.

Attes: “Then I hope she hears this,”

Attes said, swallowing once more.

Attes: “I will save you this time.”


I would make Ash promise to live—to really live. And that meant eventually opening himself to learning what love felt like and being loved in return, as much as it made me want to set fire to the entire realm. Because I wasn’t that good of a person. I already hated the unknown individual who would one day have the honor of loving and being loved by Ash. I absolutely loathed them. But I still wanted that for him. I suppose love made you capable of that: wanting happiness for another, even if it meant them finding it with someone else.


Ash: “Is it really you? Come to taunt me in my dreams?”

Sera: “Your dreams?”

I said, watching his eyes close briefly at the sound of my voice.

Sera: “More like you’re in my dream.”

Ash chuckled, and I sucked in a reedy breath. That rough, low laugh created heat in my blood. Gods, no one else could make such a simple thing sound so hedonistic.

Ash: “Even in my dreams, you argue with me.”

Sera: “I’m not arguing with you.”

Ash: “You’re not?”

Sera: “No.”


Ash: “Thirty-six.”

My freckles. My heart swelled so swiftly and strongly that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I floated right off the grass.

Ash: “I had to count them.”

His hand came to my jaw.

Ash: “Just to make sure they were all where they’re supposed to be.”


Ash: “I miss you,”

he whispered hoarsely.

Ash: “I don’t…I don’t know how much time has passed. A day? Two? A week? Only a few hours? I don’t know, liessa, but I miss you, even as I sleep so deeply.”

Something about what he said caused my skin to prickle. A feeling, or maybe a memory, prodded me, but I couldn’t figure it out. And I didn’t think it mattered right now.

Sera: “I’m here, Ash.”

He shuddered.

Sera: “So don’t miss me.”

I touched his jaw, feeling the slight stubble there.

Sera: “Love me instead.”

Ash: “I do,”

Ash swore.

Ash: “Fates, Sera, I do.”


Sera: “I need you, Ash. Please.”

Ash: “You have me, liessa.”

Ash, thank the gods, obliged without hesitation. He shifted, his large body coming down over mine, caging me. The coarser hairs of his legs teased mine as he settled between my thighs.

Ash: “You’ve always had me.”

The tip of a sharp fang dragged along my lower lip, creating tiny knots of pleasure as the hot, hard length of him pressed against my core.

Ash: “I’ve always had you.”


Sera: “Love me,”

I ordered—begged, really.

Sera: “Love me.”

Ash: “Always,”


Ash: “Tell me,”

he murmured against the skin of my throat.

Ash: “Tell me you love me, and I’ll show you my gratitude. I swear to you.”

Sera: “I love you,”

I guided his head up, his eyes meeting mine.

Sera: “I love you so much, Ash.”


Sera: “I don’t want to wake up,”

I whispered, my heart cracking. I grabbed hold of him, but I couldn’t feel him.

Sera: “Please, don’t let me wake up. I don’t want to leave you. Please.”


Callum: “I’m relieved to see you’re a quick learner,”

Callum commented after the last Chosen had left the chamber. I looked over at him.

Sera: “My life is complete knowing that.”


Frustration stoked my temper as I focused on him.

Sera: “Do you need something?”

Callum: “No.”

That polite smile appeared.

Sera: “Then why are you just standing there, staring at me?”

Callum: “Does it bother you?”

Sera: “Who wouldn’t be bothered by it?”

I replied, unfolding my legs.

Callum: “I wouldn’t.”

Sera: “Well, I don’t really think your opinion counts.”

The golden paint shimmered when he lifted his head.

Callum: “Why is that?”

Sera: “I can’t imagine you’re right in the head.”

I scooted to the edge of the divan, letting my feet touch the floor.

Sera: “What with dying multiple times and all.”


Kolis: "You do not kill for another unless love is involved.”

I frowned.

Sera: “People kill for every reason and no reason—”

Kolis: “Mortals kill for every reason and no reason,”

he corrected.

Kolis: “Not Primals.”


Kolis: “What are you saying? That you’re unlovable?”

He lifted a brow.

Kolis: “Based solely on your mouth and disagreeable temper, I wouldn’t argue against that assessment.”

My eyes narrowed.

Sera: “Well, that was kind of rude.”


Kolis: “Only a union formed out of love can be blessed.”

The wisps of eather slowed in his eyes.

Kolis: “You love him.”


Sera: “Loving someone isn’t…it isn’t less than being in love. It’s just not as strong or as irrevocable. Loving someone can change,”

I rambled, my heart thumping as he listened closely.

Sera: “It can grow into being in love, and it can fade. Being in love…it doesn’t do that. It only gets stronger, and you would do anything for that person. Anything.”

My throat thickened as I thought about the dream I’d had.

Sera: “Being in love is…it’s unbreakable.”


He sighed heavily as he turned another page.

Callum: “Are you unable to see me?”

I frowned.

Sera: “That’s another question that should have an obvious answer.”

Callum: “I ask because you must be experiencing vision issues. Since you clearly cannot tell I’m trying to read.”

Smartass.


Kolis: “Are you offended?”

Who wouldn’t be? But if I were insulted by this god, then it meant his words or opinions mattered to me. And they didn’t.

Sera: “No.”

I took a sip of the water as I met the god’s gaze.

Sera: “Mostly, just unimpressed.”


Elias: “Dametria.”

Elias filled the doorway, one hand resting on the hilt of his sword. I silently mouthed her name, committing it to memory.

Elias: “Out.”

My eyes narrowed on the guard.

Dametria: “I’m leaving,”

the goddess said, returning her attention to me.

Elias: “It does not appear as if you’re doing so,”

Elias pointed out.

Elias: “His Majesty will return soon.”

Dametria: “Yes. Yes. He will when he’s done pleasuring himself.”

Elias: “Fucking Fates,”

Elias muttered, and my lip curled in disgust.

Dametria: “At least that is what I expect he’s doing based on what I saw.”

Dametria’s voice lowered.

Dametria: “By the way, I know the rumors are true.”

I stilled.

Elias: “Dametria,”

The goddess stepped back, her next words barely audible.

Dametria: “I was there when you were crowned.”


Kyn: “I’m not that worried about Nektas,”

Kyn replied, taking a drink. Unable to stop myself, I laughed. Kyn lowered his glass.

Kyn: “Did I make a joke?”

Sera: “It sounded like one to me. No one in their right mind wouldn’t be worried about Nektas.”

Kyn: “Never said I was in my right mind.”

Sera: “Obviously,”

I muttered under my breath.


Sera: "He doesn’t even like me.”

Kolis frowned as the eather retracted from the veins of Rhain’s mangled throat.

Sera: “He doesn’t!”

That was another truth. Rhain managed to turn his head toward me, then Kolis said,

Kolis: “And why is that?”

Sera: “Probably because I stabbed Nyktos,”

I reminded him.

Kyn: “You stabbed Nyktos?”

Kyn asked. I ignored him.

Sera: “I’m also mouthy. I cuss too much. I’m temperamental. I start arguments. I’m pretty sure I threatened him—”

Kolis: “I get it,”

Kolis said, glancing at Rhain.

Kolis: “I would agree with many of those things. Especially the mouthy and cussing-too-much parts.”

I fucking prayed to the fucking Fates that he fucking died a slow, miserable fucking death.


Kyn: “As if you wouldn’t have,”

Kyn accused. My head whipped to him.

Sera: “No one asked you, asshole.”

Kyn stiffened, and eather crackled to life along the flesh of his cheeks.

Kolis: “My dear.”

Kolis laughed.

Kolis: “Didn’t I tell you not to engage those here?”

Sera: “Then he needs to stop engaging me.”

I took a deep breath at the rise of Kolis’s brow.

Sera: “I’m…I’m sorry. As I said, I have a bad temper.”

Rhain blinked his one good eye at me.  

Sera: “But I’m not lying.”

Kolis: “I believe you,”


Callum: “Fuck,”

gasped Callum as he rolled. His knees hit the floor a heartbeat before the dagger slammed into the arm of the couch where his head had been resting. He whipped toward me. I smiled sweetly at him.

Sera: “Careful there, Cal, you might hurt yourself.”

Callum: “Don’t call me that.”


Attes stood before me.

Attes: “Meyaah Liessa.”

He folded an arm over his chest and bowed. I arched a brow at the greeting.

Sera: “That’s not necessary.”

Attes: “But it is.”

He straightened.

Attes: “You are the—”

Sera: “I know. Whatever. You’re naked.”


Sera: “Sure, Cal.”

He narrowed his eyes.

Callum: “Don’t call me that.”

I smirked. Callum exhaled noisily, his normally unaffected demeanor starting to show stress.

Callum: “What I’m worried about is the destruction of the realms due to the charms of a charlatan.”  

Sera: “Charlatan? What a fancy word.”

Pausing, I met his stare.

Sera:Cal.”


Kolis: “Why is it that you two look as if you’re seconds from committing some atrocious act upon each other every time I enter this chamber?”

That had to be the most accurate observation I’d ever heard.


Callum: “Wait. Do you think to compare me to the mortal trash known as Tavius?”

Sera: “I can’t argue with that descriptor. But if the shoe fits, lace that bitch up and wear it.”

Callum’s mouth dropped open, and he looked positively aghast.

Kolis: “You’re siblings,”

Kolis remarked dryly.

Kolis: “You two argue just like Eythos and I once did.”

We both fell silent as we turned to him. Kolis smiled broadly.

Sera: “And look how that turned out,”


Kolis: “He admired you greatly.”

Sera: “Really?”

I drawled.

Callum: Yes.”

Callum’s head shot up, his pale eyes burning.

Callum: “Sotoria was kind and fierce. She always looked out for me, taking on my chores if I overslept or wasn’t feeling well. She never grew annoyed with me. I loved—”

His breath hitched.

Callum: “Yes, I admired her.”


Ash: “Oh, Sera.”

His fingers brushed under my cheek.

Ash: “Don’t cry.”

Sera: “I’m not.”

His chuckle was strained as if a heavy weight bore down on him.

Ash:Liessa.”

He pressed his lips to my forehead.

Ash: “I see your tears. Feel them.”

Sera: “I don’t mean to.”

Ash: “It’s okay,”

he assured me.

Ash: “Just tell me why.”

I lifted a shoulder. At this moment, there were too many reasons. I went with the easiest one.

Sera: “I thought I was going to be alone.”

Ash: “I’d never allow that—not awake or in my dreams. Never.”


Ash: “You’re so brave. Do you know that? So godsdamn brave and loyal.”

His chin rested on the top of my head as he dragged a hand up my spine.

Ash: “You are more than worthy of the swords and shields of the Shadowlands.”


Ash: “There’s something I need to ask you, liessa.”

I exhaled, long and slow.

Sera: “Okay.”

Ash: “Do you have access to any weapons?”

I blinked. Okay. I hadn’t expected my mind to come up with that, but I could deal with this line of questioning.

Sera: “No.”

I thought of what I’d found in the chest.

Sera: “Well, I did find something that I managed to use as a weapon.”

Ash: “Was that when you tried to escape?”

How did he know…? He didn’t. I did. My mind was creating what he said.

Ash: “What did you find?”

My lips pursed.

Sera: “I believe it was a…glass cock.”

Ash went still against me.

Ash: “I’m sorry. I believe you misspoke.”

Sera: “I didn’t.”


Ash: “What I’m about to say next doesn’t change what I told you before.”

The eather swirled in his eyes.

Ash: “You’re brave, strong, and resilient. You don’t need anyone to fight your battles. You never have. You don’t now.”

My chest rose and fell rapidly as I listened to him.

Ash: “But I will fight for you. I will free you. And if that takes me laying waste to everything and everyone in Dalos, then so be it,”

he swore as my heart stuttered.

Ash: “Nothing will stop me.”

If he did that, there would be a war.

Sera: “Ash—”

His mouth closed over mine in a hard, fierce kiss that was its own kind of oath. I felt it all the way to my bones.

Ash: “I’m nothing without you, liessa,”

he whispered as he started to slip away, and the embers hummed in my chest.

Ash: “And there will be nothing without you.”


Keella: “She is the Consort of the Shadowlands,”

Keella stated quietly. Attes and some of the gods turned to listen.

Kolis: “Is she?”

Keella: “I was there at her coronation and marriage to your nephew,”

Keella replied as my grip on the chalice firmed.

Keella: “I know who she is.”

Air lodged in my throat as I angled myself to see both her and Kolis.

Kolis: “You should know who she is.”

Kolis’s smile, that well-practiced one, stayed in place.

Kolis: “Tell me, Keella, when you stood at her coronation, did you know?”

Keella: “I know her as Seraphena, the One who is born of Blood and Ash, the Light and the Fire, and the Brightest Moon. Nyktos’s Consort.”


Kolis: “What would you do?”

Sera: “If her consent was not obtained?”

I looked at him again, saying,

Sera: “I would make sure it was the last time someone failed to gain another’s consent.”

Kolis: “And how exactly would you do that?”

Sera: “I’d shove a blade straight through their heart.”


Sera: “When I asked to leave my quarters,”

I said, making myself say what I did next,

Sera: “to spend time with you, I didn’t expect this.”

Kolis: “And what is this exactly?”

Sera: “You showing me that the Primal of Life is capable of nothing but death.”


My hands shook.

Sera: “Please stop this.”

His fingers had ceased their tapping.

Kolis: “And if I don’t?”

The embers pulsed more intensely inside me, pressing against my skin.

Sera: “You will.”


Sera: “The fact that you need to believe you’re related to someone to see the wrongness in this tells me that every poor thought I’ve had of you is more than justified.”


Sera: “Veses?”

She stopped at the door but didn’t look back.

Sera: “I just want you to know that…I am sorry for what was done to you in the Council Hall.”

Her back stiffened.

Sera: “But that doesn’t change that I will do everything in my power to see you burn before I die.”


He’d become like this. I would probably never know all the things that’d fed into how and why he was the way he was now, but I had a feeling going into a deep sleep would only make things worse.

I felt he was beyond reverting back to who he’d been.

And even if he could? It wouldn’t undo what he’d done.


Kolis: “I’ve upset you.”

Kolis shifted closer.

Kolis: “How can I make it up to you?”

Gods, not this again.

Kolis: “What would you like? New gowns? Books? Jewels? A pet?”

He caught a curl that had been tossed across my face. His lips thinned as he tucked it back. Was he offended by the color?

Kolis: “Tell me, and I will get it for you.”

I started to tell him that I wasn’t offended and didn’t need gowns, jewels, books, or a pet—wait.

What kind of pet?


Ash: “Run,”

Ash spoke, his voice calling the shadows from the walls and the alcoves.

Ash: “But you won’t get far.”


Ash: “You’re safe.”

Ash caught my wide stare.

Ash: “Talk to me, liessa. Please.”

 Sera: “You found me.”

Ash: “Always.”

Eather-laced eyes swept over my features before they slammed shut. His chest rose, and then he looked at me again.

Ash: “I will always find you, Sera.”

Tears immediately rushed my eyes, stinging them. Drawing in a breath filled with his scent, I lifted a tingling arm and grasped the back of his neck, catching strands of hair between my fingers.

Ash: “But I didn’t find you.”

Ash dragged his thumb over the curve of my jaw.

Ash: “You found me. My beautiful, strong Consort.


Ash: “I’m going to eviscerate him,”

he swore in that icy, shadowy whisper that I bet whipped through the Abyss.

Ash: “I will tear his head from his shoulders and rip him limb from limb, scattering what remains across the realms.”

My brows knitted as something occurred to me.

Sera: “Actually, that doesn’t sound like a bad plan.”

Ash: “Then do not argue with me, liessa.”


Sera: “Don’t harm him.”

Ash pulled the smoky eather back, but he didn’t take his attention off the god.

Ash: “Do you make this request because you wish to have the honor of doing so?”

Sera: “That’s actually kind of sweet of you to think,”

I said, patting his chest. The painted wings above Elias’s brows seemed to lift.


Elias: “Is that what you want done?”

Silence greeted him as I waited for Ash or Attes to answer, but they were looking at me. So was Elias. My brows flew up.

Sera: “You’re asking me?”

I squeaked hoarsely. A faint smile tugged at Ash’s lips.

Ash: “You are the Primal of Life he swore his allegiance to,”

As if I’d forgotten.

Sera: “I’m your Consort,”

I reminded him.

Attes: “Actually,”

Attes began, then stopped himself.

Attes: “Never mind.”


Ash: “I don’t want you using the embers.”

Sera: “Ash—”

Ash: “Not for him. Not even for me. I will not have you risking your health and—”

His voice…gods, it cracked. And so did my heart. Eather whipped through his irises.

Ash: “I will not risk you.”

Shock rippled through me.

Sera: “It’s your father’s soul, Ash.”

Ash: “I know. Fates, I know.”

A tremor ran through him.

Ash: “But I will not risk you.”


Ash: “Even if you realized it earlier, you wouldn’t have been able to free me. I would’ve been in stasis,”

he pointed out.

Ash: “And then what? I have a feeling you wouldn’t have done the right thing.”

Sera: “I would’ve gone to the Carcers and woke you from stasis,”

I told him.

Sera: “That is the right thing.”

Ash: “The right thing would’ve been making a run for it. Instead of risking being recaptured.”

Sera: “Would you have made a run for it, or would you have come for me?”

Ash: “I would’ve come for you, but we’re not talking about me.”


Ash: “When you kept insisting you weren’t her, I did search for an additional imprint of a soul in you, but I never sensed anyone’s presence but yours. That could simply be because your soul is stronger or it’s what I fixated on.”

I had no idea why I was flattered by the fact that he’d fixated on my soul, but I was.

Ash: “But it also never mattered to me.”

My breath caught then.

Ash: “I didn’t care if you were only Seraphena, or if you had, at one time, been known as Sotoria.”

A strand of his hair slipped forward, coming to rest on his cheek.

Ash: “It didn’t matter to me. You were always Seraphena, no matter what.”


There was a look to his features that I didn’t quite understand as I rose.

Sera: “I wish I could do what you do and know what you’re feeling.”

Ash: “I’m not even sure you’d know if you had the ability because I don’t know what I’m feeling.”


Sera: “What…what will happen when I die?”

Ash’s chest rose sharply.

Ash: “Sera—”

Sera: “I just want to know. Like will I be judged at the Pillars, or will my soul need the extra-special Primal of Death judgment?”

I lightened my tone, even as my chest felt tighter.

Sera: “Better yet, will I have to wait in line?”


Ash: “I should’ve picked up on it the first time. Especially when you kept arguing that it was your dream.”

Sera: “I wasn’t arguing.”

That warm, soft grin returned.

Ash: “You have such a strange understanding of the word arguing.”


Sera: “Please, do not say you were going to carry me.”

Ash: “I want you to conserve your energy.”

Sera: “Walking doesn’t take any energy.”

The scowl deepened.

Ash: “Along with not understanding what arguing is, I don’t think you get how the body works.”

My eyes narrowed.

Sera: “I can walk, Ash. I’m dying,”

I said, forcing my tone to be light as I swatted his chest,

Sera: “but I’m not dead.”


Sera: “Which direction?”

Ash: “West.”

Sera: “West?”

I looked left and then right before turning my stare to him.

Sera: “Do I look like a compass?”

His lips twitched.

Ash: “This way, liessa.”


Bele: “Apparently, it will appear when I’m ready.”

She squinted at Ash.

Bele: “And exactly when will that be?”

Ash: “I am under the impression it varies. Odin didn’t appear until a few years after I became a Primal of Death.”

Bele: “A few years? That’s annoying.”

Bele rolled her eyes.


Sera: “Oh, my gods,”

I muttered as Ash made a noise that sounded a lot like a laugh.

Sera: “Elias is not a bad guy. And Attes…I’m not explaining all that again.”

I shot Ash a glare.

Sera: “Is Nektas here? He would know all of this.”

Ash: “Nektas is doing his draken thing.”

Sera: “As if he couldn’t have shifted into his mortal form at any point to tell you all that Elias didn’t need to be bound?”


Dust and stone rained down. My lips parted as several smaller pieces smacked harmlessly off the ground while a spiral, scroll-like ornament broke off, coming right down on Elias’s head and shoulders. The god gave a muffled grunt before his body slumped. Slowly, I turned my head to Bele.

Sera: “No harm, no foul?”

Bele’s eyes were wide.

Bele: “He’ll live.”

My brows lifted.

Bele: “That is not my fault.”

She crossed her arms.

Bele: “Not like I knew Ehthawn would decide to land there of all places.”


Sera: “Um,”

I murmured as the draken cleared the Temple, dipping low. The end of her spiked tail skimmed the side of the cliff directly above Nektas, sending a shower of dirt down on him.

Wait. Wasn’t that the draken Nektas had visited to get information from? And hadn’t Reaver said he thought Nek was sweet on her?

Nektas grumbled, shaking off the dirt as he raised his head. Eyes narrowing, his head swiveled, thin wisps of smoke wafting from his nose. Aurelia tucked her wings to her sides, landing on a cliff above and off to the side of Nektas.

She was larger than both Ehthawn and Crolee, but Nektas dwarfed her as he rose onto all fours, baring his teeth—

Aurelia was fast, stretching out her neck and snapping at Nektas as the frills around her neck vibrated.

I tugged on the back of Ash’s shirt.

Sera:“Should we be worried about this?”

Ash: “Should we? Probably,”

he replied dryly.

Ash: “Since this is their idea of flirting, and it tends to get a bit…aggressive.”

Saion: “Kind of like how you two flirt,”

Saion tossed out as he strode past us.

Sera:“Rude,”


Attes: “Lailah, it’s been ages since I’ve seen you.”

Lailah: “Has it?”

the goddess remarked nonchalantly.

Attes: “It has.”

A hint of a fang appeared as Attes strode past Kars, who gave him a wide berth.

Attes: “The last time I visited the House of Haides, Theon claimed you were indisposed.”

Lailah: “I was.”

Lailah raised a brow as I saw Saion start to grin while his cousin scratched at his short, cropped hair.

Lailah: “I had a headache.”

Attes: “A headache?”

Lailah: “Yes.”

She shifted her weight.

Lailah: “Strangely, it’s starting to return.”


Keella: “I hope all is well?”

Ash: “Perfect. One second, please.”

Ash’s head snapped to where Attes was currently circling Lailah.

Ash: “Knock it the fuck off.”

Attes looked up through a lock of sandy-brown hair. Quiet fell across the Temple as Keella clasped her hands in front of the pale blue cloak she wore.

Ash: “She no longer serves in your Court,”

Ash reminded him.

Attes: “Thank fuck. I would’ve lost complete control of my Court if she still did.”

That statement piqued my curiosity and then some. Lailah’s response didn’t help.

Lailah: “It’s okay, Nyktos. I know how to handle him.”

Attes: “I can one hundred percent confirm that,”

Attes said, sending a wink in Lailah’s direction.

Attes: “With the fondest memories.”


Bele hopped off the stone, tossing her apple core toward the draken. Nektas moved to catch it, but Aurelia got there first.

Bele: “What is a star?”

Rhahar: “I assume it’s not what’s in the sky,”

Rhahar said as the apple core—or half of it—got flung toward Nektas.

Oh, cute. They were…sharing food.


Sera: “Oh, my fucking gods.”

Ash: “Now, you’re just being sacrilegious.”


Leaning into Ash, I cupped his cheek. Those frigid eyes landed on me.

Sera: “I love you,”

I whispered.

Sera: “I love your protectiveness. I love that you see me. That I’m important to you. That I matter. I love you so very much for that.”


Keella: “What we plan in regard to removing Sotoria’s soul and setting her on a path to be reborn is not without risk. It could incite the wrath of the Fates.”

Sera: “What doesn’t incite their wrath?”


Keella: “Illa vol la sutum.”

Ash: “She will…she will be safe,”

Ash repeated. That didn’t make sense, except…Keella had told her to come to her and then said she would be safe. She wasn’t talking about Sotoria. She was talking about me.


Keella: “Hold on to Seraphena,”

Ash: “Always,”

Ash responded.

Ash: “Always.”


Sotoria: We will meet again.


Sera: “I was returning Aios’s necklace,”

I said, my gaze moving over the faces of those I might’ve become friends with if I had more time and missing the ones not here and those no longer with us.

I wanted to see Reaver’s too-solemn and too-old eyes for such a young boy. His smile. And I wished I could hold Jadis again. Feel her weight on my chest as she slept.

Gods, it was so damn weird.

Because I wasn’t sure I had appreciated that experience as much as I should’ve in the moment. But now? I wished I’d paid more attention. Because I imagined that if I were able to live long enough to have children, that was what it would’ve felt like to hold my own. Feeling their heartbeat against my chest. And knowing that I held my whole damn world in my arms.


The tendrils of eather brightened in his irises. He dipped his head to mine, speaking low.

Ash: “What’s wrong?”

Everything.

Sera: “Nothing.”

He ran his hand up my back, slipping it under my hair.

Ash: “That’s not true.”

I drew back, meeting his stare.

Sera: “Don’t read my emotions.”

Ash: “Don’t lie to me.”

Sera: “I’m not.”

I totally was. He arched a brow.

Ash: Liessa.”

Sera: “Nyktos,”

I snapped, and one side of his lips kicked up.

Saion: “Are you two fighting already?”

Saion asked. Ash lifted his head.

Ash: “No.”

Sera: “We’re about to,”

I muttered at the same time.


Rhain: “With my sword and my life,”

Rhain spoke, lifting his head. The others echoed his words.

Rhain: “I shall honor you.”

Silvery, crackling eather erupted from his fingers, spreading across the sword. The blade collapsed first, and then the hilt turned to ash.

Rhain: “In blood and in ash, forevermore.”


In blood and in ash…

In life and death, forevermore.

What Rhain and the others had given me was beautiful. Powerful. It was better than recognition. It was an acknowledgment of who I was.

A warrior.

One worthy of respect and honor.

Gods, I couldn’t start crying now.


Sera: “You’re listening, even though you won’t look at me?”

Ash turned so quickly that he was a blur.

Ash: “Even if I’m not looking at you, you are still all I see,”

he said, his features encased in harsh ice.

Ash: “I see you, Sera. I always have.”


Sera: “I want you to know I love you,”

I started. His eyes slammed shut, and my hands began trembling.

Sera: “And I will not stop loving you. I wish I’d told you more than I have—gods, I wish I’d recognized what I felt long before I did.”

Ash: “I know,”

he said, the two words sounding as if torn from the depths of his soul.


The eather in his eyes went flat.

Ash: “What are you saying, Sera?”

Sera: “I’m…I’m saying that I want you to live. Really live, Ash.”

I twisted my fingers together.

Sera: “I want you to find a way to restore your kardia.”

Ash: “Good Fates.”

He thrust a hand through his hair. Undaunted, I pressed on and stopped in front of him.

Sera: “And I want you to allow yourself to love.”

His hand fell, clenching into a fist.

Ash: “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

Sera: “I’m not.”

I looked up at him.

Sera: “I want you to allow yourself to love and be loved, Ash. You’re more than worthy of that. You deserve it. More than anyone I know.”

Ash: “I don’t give a fuck what I supposedly deserve,”

he snarled, shadows bleeding through his flesh.

Ash: “You’re seriously asking me to find a way to love another?”

Sera: “I am.”

He stared down at me, his chest heaving.

Ash: “I…I could never do that.”

Pressure clamped down on my chest.

Sera: “I need you to.”

Ash: “I cannot believe you would even ask this of me.”

The shadows whipped under his skin.

Ash: “Think that I would just be able to forget about you—”

Sera: “I’m not asking you to forget me. I don’t want that. I don’t want you to ever forget me.”

I placed my hands on his chest, causing him to jerk as if burned.

Sera: “But you’re going to live for a long time. I want you to be happy. That is important to me. Because I love you, Ash.”

Ash: “Fuck,”

he rasped, the silver of his eyes was as bright as the moonlight reflecting off the waters of my lake, and the set of his jaw was as hard as the shadowstone beneath it.

Sera: “I love you.”

Fighting back tears, I lifted my hands and cupped his face. His eyes closed briefly, thick lashes fanning his cheeks.

Sera: “Knowing that you will be happy will allow me to find peace because you will have found peace.”

A heartbeat passed. Then another. His eyes finally opened.

Ash: “I will find peace.”


Ash’s hand returned to my hair, stopping me. I looked up at him. His cheeks were flushed, his lips parted.

Sera: “You said anything.”

Ash: “I did.”

His hand fisted in my hair, tugging at my scalp in a way that caused a rush of pounding heat.

Sera: “And I want you in my mouth.”

I clasped his thighs.

Sera: “I want to taste you.”

Ash: “Sera,”

Ash groaned.

Ash: “Anything but that.”

My eyes narrowed.

Sera: “I didn’t realize there were restrictions.”

He chuckled.

Ash: “I didn’t either. But if you do that, I’ll…”

I scraped my nails against his skin, far too pleased by the brief flash of his fangs.

Sera: “You’ll what?”

Ash: “I’ll lose control.”

My blood turned to liquid fire at the thought of him with no control.

Sera: “That is what I want.”

Ash: “It’s what I want, too.”

The faint glow of eather appeared in the veins of his cheeks and throat, causing an unsteady breath to escape me.

Ash: “But I want to lose control with my cock deep inside you, not when I’m fucking your mouth.”

My legs trembled as a pulse of lust went straight to my core. His head tilted to the side, causing his hair to fall across one side of his face. A glowing eye pierced mine.

Ash: “You’d like that.”


A hint of a teasing smile played across his mouth. I loved that kind of smile. It was rare. Would I remember it where…wherever I went?


Ash: “Keep those beautiful eyes on me,”

he ordered in that smoky, shadowy voice of his.

Ash: “I want you to see how much I enjoy the taste of your skin.”

My stomach dipped and curled.

Sera: “I…I won’t look away.”


Ash: “There are only a few things in this realm better than the sound of your moans.”

Sera: “Like…”

My breath came out in short gasps as his hand left my breast and glided down. He shifted, giving me a glimpse of muscles that dipped and rippled over his lower stomach before he grasped my hip and wedged the sleek, muscled length of his thigh between mine.

Sera: “Like what?”

Ash: “The sound you make when you come. It’s like a siren’s song. That ranks a little bit higher,”

he said, the sensation of his cool lips against my hot skin tantalizing.

Ash: “But you know what ranks even higher?”

Pressing my lips together, I shook my head. He caught my nipple between his teeth, and I cried out again, rocking against him, riding his thigh. His tongue soothed away the wicked sting.

Ash: “Your voice,”

I was panting.

Sera: “My voice?”

Ash: “Your voice,”

he confirmed, pressing his thigh against the damp heat between mine.

Ash: “It’s soft yet strong. Confident.”  

Sera: “Really?”

I asked, not sure I sounded that soft or confident now. Ash nodded.

Ash: “Your voice is a balm.”

Oh, gods.

Ash: “Another thing that ranks higher? Your laugh. You don’t laugh enough, but when you do? It fucking stops me dead in my tracks.”

Sera: “Ash,”

I whispered, chest swelling. He groaned, gnashing his teeth together.

Ash: “And that. The way you say my name. When you’re lost to passion, and all you can do is whisper my name.”

He tipped his hips, pressing against me.

Ash: “When you’re angry with me and yell it.”

I laughed.

Sera: “Even then?”

Ash: “Especially then.”

He slid down my body and dipped his tongue into my navel, causing my entire body to jerk as sharp, pulsing sensations darted through me.

Ash: “But how you say it when you’re feeling sweet? When you’ve stripped off all the beautiful shields you encase yourself in?”

Laces of eather streaked under the skin of his cheeks. His tongue and lips danced lower as his thigh shifted away from me.

Ash: “When you say my name as you tell me you love me?”

I might’ve stopped breathing for a few moments as the seconds stretched out.

Ash: “There’s not a godsdamn sound better than that, Sera. That, I swear.”

Eather pulsed in the veins of his jaw and throat.

Ash: “Because it silences all the terrible shit I’ve had to do and see and lets me feel hope.”


Sera: “Ash. Gods,”

I whispered, tugging my mouth from his. I stared up at him.

Sera: “I will always love you.”


Ash: “This?”

he breathed, dragging his tongue up the very center of me before delving deep.

Ash: “The way you taste? It comes in right behind my list of favorite sounds, but it is my favorite taste in all the realms.”

Sera: “It is?”

That was all I could manage as the tension built quickly.

Ash: “Even better than your blood. Sweet sunshine.”


Ash: “I never wanted…”

Ash whispered against my skin, even as I felt him still spasming inside me. He kissed my neck, then the corner of my lips.

Ash: “I never wanted until you.”


Sera: “I always wanted before you.”

A tremor ran through Ash, and I knew it had nothing to do with the Primal rage building in Iliseeum and spreading into the mortal realm.

Ash: Liessa…”

Sera: “I wanted to be known,”

I whispered, needing him to hear this.

Sera: “I wanted to be accepted.”

Another shudder rocked Ash.

Sera: “I wanted to be included.”

I slid my hands free of his hair, drawing them down the cool skin of his neck.

Sera: “I wanted to be talked to and touched.”

Ash: “Sera,”

he breathed. The tips of my fingers grazed the hard line of his jaw.

Sera: “Most of all, I wanted to be valued, to be needed and cherished and wanted for who I was and not who I was supposed to be or what I could do for someone. I wanted to be seen.”

A surge of emotion clogged my throat as the ground trembled once more.

Sera: “You gave me all of that, Ash. I’ve lived because of you.”

A sound came from deep within Ash as if it tore itself free from the depths of his soul.

Ash: “I will give you so much more.”


He knew.

Somehow, he knew.

I felt my lips curve upward. I felt him shake, but I knew I was smiling, even though I was dying. It was happening. After all this time, there was no escaping it, and despite being in Death’s arms, I smiled. I didn’t want to die. I wasn’t ready. It hadn’t magically become fair. I wanted to live. I wanted life more than I ever had, but I…

I felt the warmth of Ash’s skin and his mouth. I felt the strength of his heart beating beneath my palm and knew my blood now coursed through him. Ash would do more than live. He would Ascend, and he would rule as he always should have.

And I…I felt peace.


Ash: “I’m not letting you go. I’m going to Ascend you.”

I felt another tripping motion in my chest.

Sera: “You…you can’t.”

The laugh that came from him was dark and endless.

Ash: “Yes, I fucking can.”

Sera: “It won’t…work,”

I reasoned. Eather whirled in his eyes.

Ash: “I’m a fucking Primal of Death. My blood is that of the Ancients, so we don’t know that for sure. No one does. I don’t care what Delfai or the Arae claimed. Fuck them. I’m going to try.”

As his words sank in, I felt a spark of hope, but it was fleeting. When Kolis spoke of doing the same, I’d known it wouldn’t work. And even if it did…

Sera: “What…will I become?”

Ash: “I don’t know. A demis? One of those Ascended Kolis creates?”

But that…that wasn’t how the Ascended worked. They were third sons and daughters. Ash knew that. Another tremor shook him.

Ash: “Or the Primal of Life.”

But that wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t.

Ash: “I don’t care what you become.”

He lowered his wrist.

Ash: “I don’t care, as long as you’re alive. As long as you don’t leave me. I don’t care. I want you however you come back to me.”


Ash: “I know. It may not work. If it doesn’t, I will lose you and the embers. I’m willing to risk it and take that chance,”

Over his shoulder, I saw the water freeze on the rocks.

Ash: “The lives of millions of mortals nor those of the gods do not surpass yours. The realms can rot into the Abyss and all life can cease.”

Another streak slid down his other cheek, damp and the color of midnight crimson.

Ash: “I don’t care, as long as you are beside me.”

Oh, gods.

Blood tears coursed down his face.

Ash cried.

Ash: “I will take the souls of those lost upon my flesh. I will gladly usher in the end, and I will do it with you beside me. And if not? If I fail and lose you?”

His voice cracked from the agony of his sorrow and remorse. My heart shattered.

Ash: “The realms won’t survive, Sera.”

Sera: “Ash,”

I pleaded, hating his pain. Loathing all the regret I heard in his voice.

Ash: “If I lose you, they’re already gone, as good as dead and rotted away.”

His forehead pressed against mine.

Ash: “Don’t you know that already? You do. Kolis was always right about me. He knew I would do far worse than what he could ever conceive. And I will. I will ruin the realms if I lose you. If you die, there is no hope for them—any of them…innocent or evil, god or mortal. I will destroy them all.”

Ash shuddered, then kissed me hard and quick, leaving my lips numb.

Ash: “So don’t die.”

I stared at him as he drew his head back and lifted his wrist once more. A…a weak laugh left me.

Sera: “Don’t die?”

Ash: “Yes. Exactly that. Don’t fucking die,”


Odetta: “Child, the Fates know you were touched by life and death, creating someone that should not be. How could she be anything but afraid?”


Holland: “Death can be a long-earned reward upon old age, but life?”

Sir Holland spun, catching my arm and twisting, tossing me to the floor.

Holland: Life is vicious. When stolen, it can become the ruin of realms, a wrath that even Death will hide from.”


Ash: “Don’t leave me. Please.”

It was Ash, but he sounded different. Raw. Terrified. I’d never heard him so scared.

Ash: “Please. Fucking Fates, I can’t lose you. I can’t…I love you. I do. Fates, I do. I fucking love you. How can I not? How can this not be love?”

He screamed to the elms, or at least I thought he did. I wasn’t sure if it was him or if it only came from my mind.

Ash: “I love you, even if I cannot. I’m in love with you.”


Ash: “And when you stabbed me?”

I…I’d stabbed him?

Ash: “I even felt alive then.”

What a strange man.

I smiled.


His anger made me smile. It shouldn’t. Life was important. All life was, even those deemed unworthy of such. I knew that now. I didn’t think I’d known that then. Or cared. But it was now etched into my bones.

But so was the violence he’d seen in my eyes. Because…life was vicious. When stolen, it became the ruin of realms, a wrath that even Death would hide from.

And Death would hide from me.


Ash: “I never felt alive until you. And I should’ve known then what you were to me. That you were the impossible. The one thing that could return a kardia, scratching itself together from the wound its removal left behind. My heartmate.”


Ash: “These lips are even softer.”

I think I did stop breathing then as I stared at him. He had such a…a naughty mouth when in his true form.

Ash: “And warmer,”

he said, his tongue running along the inside of his lower lip.

Ash: “I don’t want my pretty pussy feeling lonely.”


Ash: “I want to hear you say exactly what you want from me, and I want you to say it with my name.”

I discovered right then that my temper hadn’t improved with my Ascension. My eyes narrowed.

Sera: “And if I don’t?”

His snarl wasn’t one of anger but of sensual challenge. The teasing presence at my rear stilled, as did the tendril inside me.

Ash: “Then I won’t fuck that pretty pussy and ass of yours.”

Good fucking gods…


Ash: “I don’t know exactly when I started to fall in love with you,”

he said, smoothing his thumb along my jaw.

Ash: “Maybe it started the night in the Garden District as we stood under the vines or when you plunged your dagger into my chest.”

Trembling laughter escaped me.

Sera: “I sincerely hope that wasn’t when you started to fall in love with me.”

Eather swirled in his irises.

Ash: “It quite possibly was.”

Sera: “If so, then that is quite demented in a…in an endearing sort of way,”


Nektas: “Are you sure?”

Nektas asked. My head turned toward the door.

Nektas: “I thought I heard screaming.”

Ash: “You didn’t.”

I gripped the blanket as Ash slowly moved his finger in and out.

Nektas: “I’m pretty sure I did,”

Ash’s finger eased from me. I started to rise onto my elbows, but his hand came on my chest, just below my neck. His eyes pulsed with eather. His other hand went to my shoulder.

Ash: “I’m not done with you.”

My breath caught as my gaze locked on his savage stare. I looked down where his cock remained, thick and heavy.

Nektas: “What did you say?”

Nektas asked. Ash’s head whipped toward the sound.

Ash: “I said I may kill you if you don’t get the fuck away from that door.”


I couldn’t look away from the vivid, icy burn of his stare as I drew my fingers along the length of his cock to the tip before lowering my hand to my belly. I let my knee fall to the side.

Sera: “Fuck your Queen then.”


I leaned over and kissed him.

Sera: “I think I can still taste myself on your lips.”

A sexy rumble vibrated in his chest.

Ash: “Do not mention that.”

Twin silver pools locked onto me, and my body immediately reacted, curling and tensing in a delicious, heated way.

Ash: “Because it makes me want to taste you again, and I have something I need to say—actually, I have several things I need to say.”

Sera: “Okay,”

I murmured as the image of him with his head nestled between my thighs took up residency in my mind. Ash bowed his back so our eyes met.

Ash: “That also means you need to stop thinking about it.”

Sera: “I’m not.”

Ash: “Your arousal is so strong I can taste it."


I could feel my chest tightening—a telltale sign of my old friend: anxiety. The corners of my lips turned down. I’d survived the impossible, Ascending into the true Primal of Life, and I still had crushing anxiety?

Seemed rather unfair.


He paused, his brow creasing.

Ash: “I have a vague recollection of him being at the door.”

The corners of my lips tipped up.

Sera: “He heard me screaming and was worried. You threatened to murder him if he didn’t leave.”

His brows lifted.

Ash: “I think I owe him an apology.”

Another giggle snuck free. Vibrant wisps of eather appeared in his eyes.

Ash: “Your laugh.”

His lashes swept down.

Ash: “It’s such a beautiful sound.”

He swallowed, letting out a ragged breath. The eather had calmed in his eyes.

Ash: “I love it.”


Ash: “It’s said that when the Arae look upon the threads of fate and see all the many different possibilities of one’s life, they can sometimes see what may come of the love between two or more souls. And in that union, they see possibilities that can reshape the realms by either creating something never seen before or ushering in great change,”

he explained, running his thumb over the golden swirl on my hand.

Ash: “And when they see that one thread, they are forbidden to intervene in the affairs of those souls, as they believe the bond between them cannot be circumvented. So, not even death of the body or the heart and soul—the kardia—can break such a connection.”

His gaze returned to mine.

Ash: “And the joining of our souls has brought up something never seen before. A Queen of the Gods.”


I didn’t know what I’d expected to find, but it wasn’t—in a hundred years—the answer to where all the hair ties had gone after Ash unbound my hair.

Now, I knew.


Ash: “I still have things I want to talk about.”

His hand slid over my hip, cupping my rear. He tugged me closer to him.

Ash: “And you’re being distracting.”

Sera: “Me?”

I shivered as the tips of my breasts grazed the cool hardness of his chest.

Ash: “Yes, you.”

His fingers pressed into the flesh of my ass.

Sera: “You’re the one who kissed me,”

I reminded him, drawing in his fresh, citrusy scent as I worked a leg between his.

Sera: “And you’re also the one groping my ass.”

Ash: “That’s only because I don’t want your ass to get lonely.”

He nipped at my lower lip.

Ash: “I’m just being thoughtful.”

I laughed, loving this rare, playful side of him.

Sera: “So incredibly thoughtful.”


 

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