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From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout Book Review

Updated: Sep 27


From Blood and Ash

by Jennifer L Armentrout

Published by Blue Box Press

Book #1 in the Blood and Ash Series


A Maiden…


Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.


A Duty…


The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.


A Kingdom…


Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel


RATED: 18+ CATEGORY: MOOD:

Steamy High Fantasy Exciting

Violence Romance Emotional

New Adult


 

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout is her first high fantasy novel, and the first book in what will be a series. It centers around Poppy, an eighteen year old woman who is the Maiden, someone who is chosen by the gods. She lives a lonely life, where very few people can see her unveiled, and can speak to her. She can not be touched, and cannot roam around freely, usually cooped up in her room, except for when she is preparing to meet the gods. Under the veil, Poppy is fierce. She sneaks out for adventures, and has one of her guards teach her to fight in secret. One such adventure leads to her meeting Hawke, a guard who is duty-bound to making sure she follows the rules set for the Maiden, and getting her to the Ascension (meeting the gods), whole and worthy. While Hawke constantly makes Poppy think and question the rules, and why she is forced to live her life this way, their feelings for one another grow, despite it being forbidden.


Whoa.

I read that Jennifer L. Armentrout has been sitting on this book for years, unsure if she should write it, because she had never written high-fantasy before, and wasn't sure if it would be good. I am so happy that she finally decided to write it. Jennifer ... never doubt yourself. Because wow. WOW!


I will admit, I don't have a lot of experience with high fantasy novels. For those of you who don't know, high-fantasy is stories based in an imaginary world. Think Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. The only books I have true experience with is Lord of the Rings, which, don't kill me, LoTR fans, is incredibly dry, and if it wasn't for the amazing films, I would have never finished the trilogy. So when I started From Blood and Ash, I found it a bit overwhelming. I forgot that for high-fantasy, there is quite a bit of set up. That being said, things quickly line up, and the story really picks up. From Blood and Ash is absolutely, freaking unique, and I could only imagine how difficult it was to write. The story is consistent, and constantly building, leading to a thrilling climax, and an ending that makes you just want there to be a next book out already (predicted to be out 2021).


Poppy is an intriguing character. Forced to be veiled, covering the top half of her face, and be chaste and godly, under the thick veil, she is a force to be reckoned with. Strong, courageous, and witty, but vulnerable. It's easy to sympathize with her, and question along with her, what is the point? Why is it such an honor to be the Maiden, and be treated like she is? Jennifer has always written fantastic female leads, but Poppy is one of her best. Hawke is equally fascinating. Incredibly skilled, handsome in a way that women flock to him, and intelligent, he has a lot of layers that I know we haven't gotten gotten a chance to see. The side characters who all wonderfully written, especially her personal guard Viktor.


From Blood and Ash is one of those stories that will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat. Different threats all come together, and in the end, leaves our hero, and ourselves, questioning everything. One thing is for certain. Jennifer L Armentrout may entered the world of high-fantasy as a newbie, but she mastered it. With an epic story, in a world that is based in fantasy, but with a touch of reality, and characters with incredibly depth, she has breathed new life in a genre that can be a bit repetitive. One thing is for sure. The next book can not come soon enough.




  1. Hawke and Poppy in the room at The Red Pearl

  2. Poppy stabbing the attacker who killed Rylan

  3. Vikter training Poppy

  4. Hawke becoming Poppy's new guard

  5. Hawke catching Poppy fighting the Craven's, and him telling her she was beautiful, and their swordplay

  6. Vikter and Poppy's father/daughter moment

  7. Hawke catching Poppy at the library, and ready from the dirty diary

  8. Hawke and Poppy sneaking away to the garden during the Rite

  9. Poppy admitting to Vikter that she hopes she is found unworthy

  10. Poppy fighting, and killing Lord Mazeen

  11. Hawke keeping Poppy warm when they were travelling, and helping her relax

  12. Poppy taking away Airrick's pain when he was dying, and Hawke and the others seeing she had the touch.

  13. When they have sex

  14. Hawke and Poppy fighting while the guys place bets on who will win

  15. Casteel and Poppy in the woods after she tried to escape


Where to Buy

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Hawke: "Have you been kissed before?"

Oh, gods, was it that obvious?

Poppy: "I have!"

One side of his lips kicked up

Hawke; "Do you always lie?"

Poppy: "No!"

Hawke: "Liar."


Hawke: "Then what should I call you? A name, perhaps?"

Poppy: "I'm ... I'm no one."

Hawke: "No One? What a strange name. Do girls with a name like that often make a habit of wearing other people's clothing?"

Poppy: "I'm not a girl."

Hawke: "I would sure hope not."


Hawke: "The least you you could do is tell me why you didn't stop me."

One side of his lips quirked up

Hawke: "I'm sure it's more than my disarming good looks."

I wrinkled my nose

Poppy: "Of course."

Another short, surprised-sounding laugh left him.

Hawke: "I think you just insulted me."

Chagrined, I winced

Poppy: "That's not what I meant -"

Hawke: "You've wounded me, Princess."

Poppy: "I highly doubt that. You have to be more than well aware of your appearance."

Hawke: "I am. It has led to quite a few people making questionable life choices."


Hawke: "Death is like an old friend who pays a visit, sometimes when it's least expected and other times when you're waiting for her. It's neither the first nor the last time she'll pay a visit, but that doesn't make any death less harsh or unforgiving."


Hawke: "What do you want from me? Tell me, and I'll make it so."

Poppy: "Why? Why would you ... do this? You don't know me, and you thought I was someone else."

A flicker of amusement crossed his striking features

Hawke: "I have nowhere to be at the moment, and I'm intrigued."

My brows lifted

Poppy: "Because you have nowhere to be at the moment?"

Hawke: "Would you rather I wax poetic about how I'm charmed by your beauty, even though I can only see half your face? Which, by the way, from what I can see is pleasing. Would you rather I tell you I'm captivated by your eyes? They are a pretty shade of green from what I can tell."

I started to frown

Poppy: "Well, no. I don't want you to lie."

Hawke: "None of those things were a lie."

He tugged on the bow as he dipped his head, brushing his lips over mine.

Hawke: "I told you the truth, Princess. I'm intrigued by you, and it's fairly rare anyone intrigues me."

Poppy: "So?"

Hawke: "So. You've changed my evening. I'd planned to return to my quarters. Maybe get a good, albeit boring, night of sleep, but I have a suspicion that tonight will be anything but boring if I spend it with you."


Hawke: "Tell me what you enjoy, so I can make you love it."

Poppy: "I ... I don't know."

Hawke's gaze flew to mine, and such a long moment passed that I began to wonder if I'd said the wrong thing.

Hawke: "I'll tell you what I want."

His thumb moved in slow, tight circles across a most sensitive part.

Hawke: "I want to remove your mask."

Poppy: "I ..."

A sharp, pulsing thrill rippled through my body, quickly followed by my heady wonder. What I felt ... I'd never felt anything like it before. Sharp and sweet, a different type of anguish.

Poppy: "Why?"

Hawke: "Because I want to see you."

Poppy: "You can see me now."

Hawke: "No, Princess."

he said, lowering his head until his lips brushed the neckline of my gown.

Hawke: "I want to really see you when I do this without your gown between you and my mouth."

Before I could ask what he meant, I felt the wet, warm glide of his tongue through the thin, silken gown. I gasped, shocked by the act and by the rush of liquid heat it brought forth, but his gaze lifted to mine as his mouth closed over the tip of my breast. He sucked deep and long, and the gasp turned to a cry that would surely embarrass me later.


A fist pounded on the door, silencing whatever he was about to ask.

Kieran: "Hawke? You in there?"

He stiffened above me, his warm breath against my lips as he closed his eyes.

Kieran: "It's Kieran."

Hawke: "As if I didn't know that already."

Hawke muttered under his breath, and a small giggle left me. His eyes opened, and that half-grin appeared.

Kieran: "Hawke?"

Kieran pounded some more

Poppy: "I think you should answer him."

Hawke: "Dammit."

Looking over his shoulder, he called out

Hawke: "I'm thoroughly, happily busy at the moment."

Kieran: "Sorry to hear that."

Hawke refocused on me.

Kieran knocked again.

Kieran: "But the interruption is unavoidable."

Hawke: "The only unavoidable thing I see if your soon-to-be broken hand if you pound on that door one more time."

My eyes widened

Hawke: "What, Princess? I told you I was really intrigued."


Hawke: "Tell me that you'll wait for me, Princess."

My heart skipped over itself

Poppy: "I will."


Vikter: "You're as brave as any guard on the Rise."

I smiled

Poppy: "Well, thank you."

Vikter: "And just as foolish as any new recruit."

My smile turned upside down.

Poppy: "I take my thank you back."


Attacker: "I'm going to enjoy tearing your skin off your weak, fragile bones. I don't care what he has planned for you. I will bathe in your blood and feast on your entrails."

Poppy: "That sounds delightful."


Tawny: "I can't imagine what's going on in your head. Actually, probably something that involves bloody vengeance."

I grinned

Poppy: "That's not entirely untrue."

Tawny: "This is my shocked face."


Hawke: "You do him a great honor by being here. You do us all a great honor by being here."

I opened my mouth to tell him that Rylan and all of them were owed far more than the honor of my presence, but I stopped myself. I couldn't risk it.

Hawke's gaze flicked over my lower jaw, lingering on the corner of my mouth, where I knew the skin was inflamed.

Hawke: "You were hurt. You can be assured that will never happen again."


I kicked out, and my bare foot connected with the side of Vikter's skin. Caught off guard, he staggered to the side as I shot up beside him. He started to strike back but froze. His gaze dropped to where I held the dagger to his throat.

The corners of his lips turned down.

I smiled.

Poppy: "I win."

Vikter: "It's not about winning, Poppy."

Poppy: "It's not?"

I lowered the dagger, stepping back.

Vikter: "It's about surviving."

Poppy: "Isn't that winning, though?"

He shot me a sidelong glance as he dragged his arm over his forehead.

Vikter: "I suppose you can look at it that way, but it's never a game."

Poppy: "I know that. But if it were a game, I still would've won."

Vikter: "You only got the upper hand twice, Poppy."

Poppy: "Yes, but both of those times, I would've sliced your neck. You got the upper hand three times, but they would've been nothing more than flesh wounds."

Vikter: "Flesh wounds?"

He barked out a short, rare laugh.

Vikter: "Only you would think disembowelment a paltry flesh wound. You're such a poor loser."

Poppy: "I thought this wasn't a game?"

He scoffed.


Duke: "She's truly unique, isn't she?"

I stiffened

Duke: "Half of her face is a masterpiece. The other a nightmare."

A tremor coursed down my arms, but I kept my chin high and resisted the urge to pick up something, anything, and throw it at the Duke's face.

Hawke's gaze remained fastened on mine as he stepped forward.

Hawke: "Both halves are as beautiful as the whole."

My lips parted on a sharp inhale.

Hawke placed a hand on the hilt of his broadsword and bowed slightly, his gaze never once leaving mine.

Hawke: "With my sword and with my life, I vow to keep you safe, Penellaphe. From this moment until the last moment, I am yours."


Poppy: "Your hormones must be clouding your rational thought."

Tawny: "My hormones are always clouding my rational though, thank you very much."


Tawny: "He said you were beautiful."

Poppy: "I'm sure he was just being kind."

She stared at me as if I'd admitted to snacking on dog hair.

Tawny: "First off, you are beautiful. You know that -"

Poppy: "I'm not saying that to fish for compliments."

Tawny: "I know, but I felt the overwhelming need to remind you of such. He didn't have to say anything in response to the Duke being a general ass."

My lips twitched

Tawny: "He could've ignored it and proceeded on to the Royal Guard oath, which, by the way, he made sound like ... sex."

Poppy: "Yes. Yes, he did."

Tawny: "I almost needed to fan myself, just so you know. But back to the more important part of this development. Do you think he's already recognized you?"

Poppy: "I don't know. I wore a mask that night and he didn't remove it, but I think I would recognize someone in or out of a mask."

She nodded

Tawny: "I would like to think that I would, and I would definitely hope that a Royal Guard would."

Poppy: "Then that means he chose not to say anything. Although, he might not have recognized me. It was dimly lit in that room."

Tawny: "If he didn't, I imagine he will when you speak, as you said. It's not like you can be completely silent every time you're around him. That would be suspicious."

Poppy: "Obviously."

Tawny: "And odd."

Poppy: "Agreed. I don't know. Either he didn't, or he did and chose not to say anything. Maybe he's planning to lord it over my head or something."

Her brows slammed down.

Tawny: "You're an incredibly suspicious person."

I started to deny that but I realized I couldn't.

Poppy: "He probably didn't recognize me. You know what?"

Tawny: "What?"

Poppy: "I don't know if I'm relieved or disappointed that he didn't recognize me. or if I'm excited that he might have."

Shaking my head, I laughed.

Poppy: "I just don't know, but it doesn't matter. What ... what happened between us was one time only. It was just this ... thing. It can't happen again."

Tawny: "Sure."

Poppy: "Not that I'm even thinking he'd want to do any of that again, especially now that he knows it was me. If he does."

Tawny: "Uh-huh."

Poppy: "But what I'm trying to say is that it's not a thing to even consider. What he does with the knowledge is the only thing that matters."

Tawny: "You know what I think?"

Poppy: "I'm half afraid to hear it."

Her brown eyes glimmered

Tawny: "Things are about to get so much more exciting around here."


Tawny: "You don't all that concerned by the prospect. To be blunt, you sound excited."

Loren: "Excited? No. Intrigued? Possibly. Some days are just so dreadfully dull."

The shock of her statement caused me to forget who I was and where I was.

Poppy: "So, a good old rebellion may liven things up for you? Dead men and women and children are a source of entertainment?"

Surprise flickered across both her and Dafina's faces.

Loren swallowed

Loren: "I suppose I ... I might've misspoken, Maiden. I apologize."

I said nothing.


Tawny: "What are you going to do?"

Poppy: "About the Dark One possibly being in the city?"

Tawny: "What? No. About him."

Poppy: "Him?"

I glanced at Hawke

Tawny: "Yes. Him. Unless there's another guy you've made out with while your identity was concealed."

Poppy: "Yes. There are many. They have an actual club."


Tawny: "That was ... intense."

I blinked, giving a shake of my head as I turned to her

Poppy: "What?"

Tawny: "That. You and Hawke staring one another down. And no, I can't see your eyes, but I knew you two were engaged in a rather heated one on one there."

I could feel warmth creep into my cheeks.

Poppy: "He's just doing his job, and I ... I just lost tract of what I was saying."

Tawny lifted her brow

Tawny: "Is that so?"

Poppy: "Of course."

Tawny: "So, he was just making sure you're still alive and -"

Hawke: "Breathing? Since I am responsible for keeping her alive, making sure she's breathing would be a priority."

My shoulders stiffened. How much has he overheard?

Tawny made a poor attempt to smother her giggle with a napkin

Tawny: "I'm relieved to hear that."

Hawke: "If not, I'd be remiss in my duty, would I not?"

Tawny: "Ah, yes, your duty. Between protecting Poppy with your life and limb and gathering spilled crystals, you're rather busy."

Hawke: "Don't forget assisting weak Ladies in Wait to the nearest chair before they faint. I am a man of many talents."

Tawny: "I'm sure you are."


Tawny: "Is there a threat of stray crystals we need to be aware of, or is there something you need, Hawke?"

Hawke: "There are many things I'm in need of."

His gaze slid back to me.


Duke: "I believe four lashes should suffice."

Poppy: "Are you sure that's enough? I wouldn't want you to feel as if you haven't done enough."


Hawke: "You are ..."

His stare was intense and unblinking as he sheathed his sword at his side.

Hawke: "You're absolutely magnificent. Beautiful."


Hawke: "I'm aware that my hair is in need of a trim, but your aim is off. You should really work on that since I'm quite partial to me face."

My aim had been spot-on.

I waited until he was close enough, and then I kicked out, catching him in the lower leg. He grunted as I jumped to my feet, ignoring the ache of what was surely a bruised hip and rear. I whirled to the right, and he jumped to block me, but I darted to the left. He came right back at me, and I kicked out once more -

Hawke caught me by the ankle. I gasped, arms pinwheeling until I steadied myself. Wide-eyed, I stared at him. HE raised his brows as his gaze traveled the length of my bare leg.

Hawke: "Scandalous."

A growl of annoyance burst from me.

He laughed.

Hawke: "And such dainty little slippers. Satin and silk? They're as finely tailored as your leg. The kind of slipper no guard of the Rise would wear."

How astute of him.

Hawke: "Unless they are being outfitted differently than I am."

Hawke dropped my ankle, but before I could run, he caught my arm and yanked me forward. Suddenly, I was against him and on the tips of my toes.

Air seized in my lungs at the sudden contact. My breasts were flattened against the hard leather and iron of his stomach. The warmth of his body seemed to bleed through his armor, sinking through my cloak and the thin gown underneath. A flash of heat rolled through me as I dragged in a deep breath. Beyond the rot of Craven blood, he smelled of dark spice and lush smoke. A flush crept into my cheeks.

His nostrils flared, and as crazy as it sounded, the hue of his eyes seemed to deepen to a striking amber color. He lifted his other arm

Hawke: "You know what I think -"

The blade pressing into the skin of his throat silenced him. His lips thinned as he stared down at me. He didn't move or release me, so I pressed the tip of the dagger in just enough. A bead of blood swelled just below his throat.

Hawke: "Correction."

Then he laughed as a trickle of blood seeped down his neck. It wasn't a harsh laugh or a patronizing one. He sounded amused.

Hawke: "You're an absolutely stunning, murderous little creature. Nice weapon. Bloodstone and wolven bone. Very interesting ... Princess."


Hawke: "After all we shared? You throw a dagger at my face?"

Poppy: "All we shared? It was a handful of minutes and a few kisses."

Hawke: "It was more than a few kisses. If you've forgotten, I'm more than willing to remind you."

Poppy: "There was nothing worth remembering."

Hawke: "Now you insult me after throwing a dagger at my face? You've wounded my tender feelings."

Poppy: "Tender feelings?"

I snorted

Poppy: "Don't be over-dramatic."

Hawke: "Hard not to be when you threw a dagger at my head and then cut my neck."

Poppy: "I knew you'd move out of the way."

Hawke: "Did you?/ Is that why you tried to slice open my throat?"

Poppy: "I nicked your skin. Because you had a hold of me and wouldn't let go. Obviously, you haven't learned anything from it."

Hawke: "I've actually learned a lot, Princess. That's why your hands and your dagger aren't getting anywhere near my neck."

His thumb slid over the inside of my wrist as a reminder, and my fingers spasmed around the handle of my weapon.

Hawke: "But if you let go of the dagger, there's a whole lot of me I'll let your hands get close to."


Poppy: "You're ridiculous."

Hawke: "What I am in intrigued."


Hawke: "Am I unaware of a new recruitment policy where half-dressed ladies in cloaks are now needed on the Rise? Are we that desperately in need of protection?"

Poppy: "Desperate? Why would my presence on the Rise signal desperation when, as you've seen, I know how to use a bow? Oh, wait. Is it because I happen to have breasts?"


Hawke: "You're so incredibly violent. I think I like it."


Hawke: "I cam back for you that night. Just like I told you I would. I came back for you, and you weren't there. You promised me, Princess."

Poppy: "I ... I couldn't."

Hawke: "Couldn't? I have a feeling that if there's something you want badly enough, nothing will stop you."

A harsh, bitter-sounding laugh escaped me.

Poppy: "You know nothing."

Hawke: "Maybe."

He let go of my arm, and before I knew what he was up to, his hand had slipped inside my hood. His cold fingers touched the unmarred skin of my right cheek. I gasped at the contact and started to draw back, but there was nowhere to go.

Hawke: "Maybe I know more than you realize."

Hawke bent his head, pressing his cheek to the left side of my hood.

Hawke: "Do you really think I have no idea who you are?"


Hawke: "Whatever you need to tell yourself, Princess."

Poppy: "Don't call me that!:"

I stomped my foot.

Hawke lifted an eyebrow

Hawke: "Did that make you feel good?"

Poppy: "Yes! Because the only other option is to kick you."

Hawke: "So violent."

Oh, my gods.

My hands curled into fists

Poppy: "You shouldn't be in here."

Hawke: "I'm your personal guard. I can be wherever I feel I am needed to keep you safe."

Poppy: "And what do you think you need to protect me from in here? An unruly bedpost I might stub my toe on? Oh, wait, are you worried I might faint? I know how good you are at handling such emergencies."

Hawke: "You do look a bit pale. My ability to catch frail, delicate females may come in handy."


Poppy: "I have a feeling that if you don't leave, he's just going to stand there and drain precious air from my room -"

Hawke: "While looking exceptionally handsome. You forgot to add that."

A short, light giggle left Tawny.

I ignored the comment

Poppy: "And I would like to get some rest before the sun rises."

Tawny exhaled loudly

Tawny: "Fine. Princess."

Poppy: "Oh, my gods."

Hawke: "I like her."


Hawke: "You're ... you're nothing like I expected."

Poppy: "Was it my skill with an arrow or the blade? Or was it the fact that I took you to the ground?"

Hawke: "Barely took me to the ground. All of those things. But you forgot to add in the Red Pearl. I never expected to find the Maiden there."

I snorted

Poppy: "I imagine not."


Hawke: "It's weird, isn't it?"

Poppy: "What is?"

His gaze met mine again

Hawke: "How it feels like I've known you longer. You feel that, too."


Poppy: "I won't ... I refuse to be helpless."

Hawke: "No one should be."

Poppy: "You saw what happened tonight. They reached the top of the Rise. If one makes it over, more will follow. No Rose is impenetrable, and even if it were, mortals come back from outside the Rise cursed. It happens more than people realize. At any moment, that curse could spread in this city. If I'm going down -"

Hawke: "You'll go down fighting."

I nodded

Hawke: "Like I said, you're very brave."

Poppy: "I don't think it's bravery. I think it's ... fear."

Hawke: "Fear and bravery are often one and the same. It either makes you a warrior or a coward. The only difference is the person it resides inside."


Hawke: "I've kept you up long enough."

I arched a brow

Poppy: "That is all you have to say about me being on the Rise?"

Hawke: "I ask only one thing of you. The next time you go out, wear better shoes and thicker clothing. Those slippers are likely to be the death of you, and that dress ... the death of me."


Vikter: "And I understand. I do."

Poppy: "Understand what?"

Vikter: "Like I said before, he's an attractive young man -"

Poppy: "That has nothing to do with it."

Vikter: "And you've been surrounded by old men like me."

Poppy: "You're not that old."

He blinked.

Vikter: "Thanks. I think."


Vikter: "He hasn't given us any reason to doubt him. I know that. It's just that we don't know him, and you're important to me, Poppy. Not because you're the Maiden, but because you're ... you."

I didn't give him a chance to realize what I was doing. I launched myself at him, wrapping my arms around his waist and hugging him tightly.

Poppy: "Thank you."

Vikter was as stiff as a guard on the Rise for their very first time, but then he put his hands on my back. And patted me.

I grinned.

Vikter: "You know I'll never replace your father, nor would I ever try to, but you're like a daughter to me."

I hugged him tighter

He patted me again

Vikter: "I worry about you. Partly because it's my job, but mostly because it's you."

Poppy: "You're important to me, too. Even when you think my punches are weak."

His chuckle was rough as he dropped his chin to the top of my head.

Vikter: "Your punches are weak when you're not going them correctly."

He pulled back, clasping my cheeks

Vikter: "But, girl, your aim is deadly. Don't ever forget that."


Tawny: "If you need me, knock. Princess."

I groaned.

Hawke chuckled

Hawke: "I really do like her."

Poppy: "I'm sure she'd love to hear that."

Hawke: "Would you love to hear that I really like you?"

My heart skipped a beat, but I ignored the stupid organ.

Poppy: "Would you be sad if I said no?"

Hawke: "I'd be devastated."

I snorted.

Poppy: "I'm sure."


Hawke: "The Priestess seems like a ... A bitch. I don't say that often, but I say it now. Proudly."

Nearly choking on my laugh, I looked away.

Poppy: "She ... she is something, and she's always disappointed in my ... commitment to being the Maiden."

Hawke: "Exactly how are you supposed to prove you are? Better yet, what are you supposed to be committed to?"

I almost jumped on him in that moment and wrapped my arms around him. Instead, I gave him a sedate nod.

Poppy: "I'm not quite sure. It's not like I'm trying to run away or escape my Ascension."

Hawke: "Would you?"

Poppy: "Funny question."

Hawke: "It was a serious one."

Poppy: "I can't believe you'd ask that."

Hawke: "Why?"

Poppy: "Because I couldn't do that. I wouldn't."

Hawke: "It seems to me that this honor that has been bestowed upon you comes with very few benefits. You're not allowed to show your face or travel anywhere outside the castle ground. You didn't even seem all that surprised when the Priestess moved to strike you. That leads me to believe it's something fairly common. You are not allowed to speak to most, and you are not to be spoken to. You're caged in your room most of the day, your freedom restricted. All the rights others have are privileges for you, rewards that seem impossible for you to earn."

I opened my mouth, but I didn't know what to say. I looked away.

Hawke: "So, I wouldn't be surprised if you did try to escape this honor."


Poppy: "I've never been to a Rite."

Hawke: "And you've never snuck into one?"

Poppy: "I'm offended that you'd even suggest such a thing."

He chuckled

Hawke: "How bizarre that I could think that you, who has a history of misbehaving, would do such a thing."

I grinned at that.


Hawke: "Are you excited about attending the Rite?"

Poppy: "I'm curious."

Hawke: "I'm curious to see you. You'll be unveiled."

Poppy: "Yes. But I will be masked."

Hawke: "I prefer that version of you."

Poppy: "The masked version of myself?"

Hawke: "Honest? I prefer the version of you that wears no mask or veil."


Hawke: "You still out there, Princess?"

My lips parted as my eyes widened at the sound of his voice. Hawke. It was Hawke. In that room. I couldn't believe it.

Hawke: "Or have you fallen to your death?"

I briefly debated the merits of jumping

Hawke: "I really hope that's not the case since I'm pretty positive that would reflect poorly on me since I assumed you were in your room. Behaving. And not on a ledge, several dozen feet in the air, for reasons I can't even begin to fathom but am dying to learn."

Poppy: "Dammit."

I whispered, looking around as if I could find another escape route. Which was stupid. Unless I suddenly sprouted wings, the only exit point was through the window.

A heartbeat later, Hawke stuck his head out and looked up at me.

Poppy: "Hi?"

He stared at me a moment

Hawke: "Get inside."

I didn't move.

With a sigh so heavy it should've rattled the walls, he extended his hand toward me.

Hawke: "Now."

Poppy: "You could say please."

His eyes narrowed.

Hawke: "There are a whole lot of things I could say to you that you should be grateful I'm keeping to myself."

Poppy: "Whatever. Move back."

Hawke: "If you fall, you're going to be in so much trouble."

Poppy: "If I fall, I'll be dead, so I'm not quite sure I'd also be in trouble."


Poppy: "I didn't go gallivanting through anything. I went through Wisher's Grove and was on the street for less than a minute. I also had my cloak up and this mask on. No one could even see a single inch of my face. I wasn't worried about being snatched, but I also came prepared, just in case."

Hawke: "With your trusty little dagger?"

Poppy: "Yes, with my trusty little dagger."


Poppy: "Yes. I cut him. More than once. He was wounded when he was called off. I hope he died."

Hawke: "You are so violent."

Poppy: "You keep saying that, but I'm really not."

Hawke laughed again, the sound deep and real.

Hawke: "You really aren't all that self-aware."

Poppy: "Whatever."


Hawke stared back at me, almost curiously.

Hawke: "Interesting."

The corners of my lips turned down

Poppy: "What is?"

Hawke: "You."


He opened the book.

Maybe he couldn't read.

Please, let it be that he could not read.

The grin slowly slipped from his face.

Of course, he could read. Why was life so unfair?

His dark brows rose as he flipped through the pages. I knew what was on the first page. Miss Willa Colyns had been painfully detailed about the intimate kiss.

Hawke: "What interesting reading material."

My face was burning with the first of a thousand suns, and I wondered how mad Hawke would get if I threw my dagger at his face.

Again.

The grin returned, and so did the dimple.

Hawke: "Penellaphe."

He said my name with so much shock, my eyes would've rolled if I weren't so incredibly mortified.

Hawke: "This is ... just scandalous reading material for the Maiden."

Poppy: "Shut up."

Hawke: "Very naughty."

Annoyance hitting a record high, I lifted my chin.

Poppy: "There's nothing wrong with me reading about love."

Hawke: "I didn't say there was. But I don't think what she is writing about has anything to do with love."

Poppy: "Oh, so you're an expert on this now?"

Hawke: "More so than you, I imagine."

I snapped my mouth shut. The truth in that statement strung, and I lashed out.

Poppy: "That's right. Your visits to the Red Pearl have been the talk of many servants and Ladies in Wait, so I suppose you do have a ton of experience."

Hawke: "Someone sounds jealous."

Poppy: "Jealous?"

I laughed as I rolled my eyes.

Poppy: "As I said before, you have an overinflated sense of importance in my life."

He snorted as he returned to skimming through the book.


Hawke: "How much of this have you read?"

Poppy: "That's none of your business."

Hawke: "Probably not, but I need to know if you got to this part."

He cleared his throat.

Wait.

Was he going to read from it.

No.

Please, no.

Poppy: "I only read the first chapter. And you look like you're in the middle of the book, so -"

Hawke: "Good. Then this will be fresh and new to you. Let me see, where was I? Oh, yes. Here. 'Fulton had promised that when he was done with me that I wouldn't be able to walk straight for a day, and he was right.' Huh. Impressive."

My eyes widened

Hawke: " 'The things the man did with his tongue and his fingers had only been surpassed by his shockingly large, decadently pulsing, and wickedly throbbing - ' "

Hawke chuckled

Hawke: "This woman has a knack for adverbs, doesn't she?"

Poppy: "You can stop now."

Hawke: " 'Manhood.' "

Poppy: "What?"

Hawke: "That's the end of that sentence."

When he glanced up, I immediately knew that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was going to burn my alive.

Hawke: "Oh, you may not know what she means by manhood. I do believe she's talking about his cock. Prick. Dick. His -"

Poppy: "Oh, my gods."

Hawke: "His - apparently - extremely large, throbbing and pulsing -"

Poppy: "I get it! I completely understand."

Hawke: "Just wanted to make sure. Wouldn't want you to be too embarrassed to ask and think she as referencing his love for her or something."

Poppy: "I hate you."

Hawke: "No, you don't."

Poppy: "And I'm about to stab you. In a very violent manner."

Concern flickered across his face as he lowered the book.

Hawke: "No that, I believe."

Poppy: "Give me back the journal."

Hawke : "But of course. All you had to do was ask."

Poppy: "What?"

My mouth dropped open

Poppy: "I have been asking."

Hawke: "Sorry. I have selective hearing."

Poppy: "You ... you are the worst."

Hawke: "You got your words wrong."