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Gold by Raven Kennedy


Gold

by Raven Kennedy

Self-Published

Book 5 in Plated Prisoner Series


"Find me in another life. Find me in them all."


Every end is also a beginning.

I thought I was going to die, and would have if it weren’t for Slade. The only way he could save me was to open a rip between worlds. The only way for me to save myself was to go through it.

Sometimes, fleeing one dangerous place just brings you to another.

Annwyn.

The realm of the fae.

There is magic and beauty here, though around

every corner, threats lurk.

But I’m a threat too.

I’m not a girl in a gilded cage anymore, and no one is going to stop me from finding my way back to Slade.

But returning home means facing danger and secrets. So I have to burn bright enough to light my own way…

Or else I might be swallowed by the dark.



Genre:


Triggers

Violence, Death, Classism, Cruelty


 

Raven Kennedy ... how dare you leave us hanging like that?!?!

I was a little worried about Gold. I didn't start reading until about a week after release, and I had seen some people say they didn't like it. In an effort not to spoil it for myself, I didn't read into why they didn't like it as much as the others, but I can assume the main reason is because Auren and Slade are separated the whole book.

That is my only complaint.

That I miss these two together.

Otherwise, I really loved it.

The fact that Raven wrote this book while having a baby and suffering post partum blows me away.

She further impressed me by not just furthering the story in the human realm, but starting a whole new story in the Fae realm that melds itself perfectly to the human realm.

And they are both interesting stories.

Auren's journey in Gold drew me in, because we are getting a whole new world, with it's own problems and tyrants, and whole slew of characters that hooked me. How her power has evolved blew me away. There are so many instances where her absolute control of her power led to some insane moments where my jaw literally dropped.

Slade's journey drew me in because it was dark and revenge filled, but also interesting because we get updates on the characters we've come to love in this series. Mainly his wrath.

And Raven did something I never thought she could do.

She made me like Malina.

I looked forward to her chapters.

Her story is so so good and I can't wait to see her in the next book.


Now that ending ... woah. That was an intense cliffhanger. Say what you will about Gold, but I have to say, I can't wait for Goldfinch.



 



 

Years would pass, and this magical world would become my home, but I never forgot that endless trudge on the bridge. In turn, the fae never forgot the way I burst through the sky like a broken-winged bird, and that is what they always called me.

So, yes, I was scared to fall. But without falling, I never would have landed.

And what a beautiful thing it was to land.


Nenet: “You’re the Lyäri Ulvêre,”

she says again, her voice choking up.

My own voice pants out, my temples throbbing as my dizziness begins to tunnel through my spiraling mind.

Auren: “I don’t understand…”

A tear falls down her cheek, even as a smile tugs at her thin lips.

Nenet: “It means it’s alright, Lady Auren. Because you’re home.”


Queen Kaila went against me—all of the other monarchs did. It’s time I remind her and everyone else exactly why you don’t fuck with me and mine.


Ryatt will be on his way toward Fourth Kingdom by now.

But me? I’m not returning to Brackhill yet.

Because the seething rot still thumps beneath my skin. The raging wind thunders in my ears, and my fury clamors in a deafening roar.

Because I can’t get to her.

So I’ll take vengeance instead.


Malina: “What do you expect me to do?”

Dommik: “How about take some fucking responsibility for starters?”

Malina: “I told you. They were the ones that did this. They manipulated me.”

Dommik: “And you were just so quick to believe them, weren’t you? While they whispered about all these grand things you deserve. You never once stopped to question it, because that’s really how you think. You think the world owes you, because you are a proud, entitled bitch.”

My teeth gnash together. Tiny chips of ice crunching between them.

Malina: Don’t call me a bitch.”

Dommik: “Don’t act like one,”


Nenet: “We loyalists call you the Lyäri Ulvêre—the golden one gone. The gilded girl who was lost in the night.”


I love him with a fierceness that goes beyond the heart, and so I will ache and leak and grieve until he finds me.

And he will find me.

For now, I shut my eyes and think of him, letting my subconscious reach out with gentle fingers. Maybe somewhere in Orea, his eyes will close too. Maybe he’ll feel my pull, and we can meet in our dreams while we sleep. And maybe there, we can be home, for just a little while.

Because my new home, I’ve realized…is him.


Desperation knots my veins, makes me lump up my ribbons on my lap. They always reached for him. Touched and danced and played.

Flirted.

Then they were gone, and now he’s gone.

So I’m whole…but I’m not.


Nenet: “Another reason we need a new monarchy,”

I give her a look.

Auren: “Like I said before, I want nothing to do with any throne.”

She sighs.

Nenet: “How unrevolutionary.”


Auren: “Stone King?”

Nenet: “His power. He can control stone and rock. It’s why his guard are called Stone Swords. He outfits them with magical stone weapons and armor.”

Auren: “Sounds heavy.”

Nenet: “Not as heavy as gold, I daresay,”


I bristle. This male has barely had one conversation with me, and he’s already trying to use me.

Being gold is exhausting.


Malina: “Do you know what the cold does to stone, King Carrick?”

He pauses and tilts his head as he looks at me. I gesture through the doorway, to the crumbling stone walls that are worn and abraded.

Malina: “Stone has rifts and crevices. Weaknesses. It may look invincible and strong, but the cold can exploit those things. Moisture delves into those cracks and fissures, and when it freezes, it ruins. Stone can’t withstand it forever. In the end, cold will always win out.”


Osrik: “I’m not leaving her.”

Hojat: “Captain, if I may…”

Hojat cuts in.

Hojat: “My mender novices will be coming in soon to give Lady Rissa her cleaning. For her own modesty, you must step out of the room anyway.”

I open my mouth to argue, but he waves a hand at me.

Hojat: “You need to go eat and rest. A cleaning of your own wouldn’t hurt either…”

Judd grins.

Judd: “I do believe our dear mender just told you that you stink like foul ass. Come on. The sooner you leave, the sooner you can return.”

I grudgingly get up from my chair. Leaning over Rissa, I gently smooth back the blonde hair from her pale face.

Osrik: “I’ll be back, Yellow Bell. You just keep on breathing for me,”


Slade: “Make sure you Cleanse the queen very well. Her cruel actions have made her soul fucking foul.”


Slade: “You’ll be pinned beneath a rubble of rot,”

I tell her evenly, while scatters of dust and chunks of stone begin to rain down around us.

Slade: “You’ll be helpless, just like you made her feel. But unlike Auren, no one is coming to save you. You’ll die with the weight of the Conflux burying you alive while my rot pinches your every vein. And that, in my eyes, is just.”


Slade: “That golden female you all were so quick to condemn, the one you were all so ready to watch die…she is the only reason I’m not going to kill you all right now. She’s the only reason I’m not going to rot the entirety of this kingdom so that nothing—no person, beast, or plant—could survive. So when you kiss that ground your lips are pressing against, you’d better be thanking her. Because if it were only up to me, you’d already be fucking dead.”


I give her a sidelong glance.

Auren: “You’re sugarcoating it.”

Nenet: “I always did have a sweet tooth.”


A smile crinkles my cheeks. Her words make me think of Digby. Her matter-of-fact personality makes me think of Milly.

Auren: “You know, you remind me of someone.”

She arches a brow.

Nenet: “Well, did you listen to them, or did you talk more?”

A little laugh escapes.

Auren: “Definitely talk.”

Nenet: “Hmm. A bad habit then.”

Auren: “Probably.”


Auren: “Why put yourself at risk?”

She cackles, like I’ve just made some great joke.

Nenet:Whys are for eyes, but you don’t have to show to know.”

I blink.

Auren: “What?”

Nenet sighs and taps her ear.

Nenet: “Listen. Stop hearing.”


Royal Guard: “Who dares interfere with the crown’s justice?”

Auren: “I fucking do.”


Royal Guard: “Speak your name, golden one, so the justice of the crown can be exacted.”

I open my mouth to answer, but another voice beats me to it.

Nenet: “This is the Lyäri Ulvêre,” Nenet spits, suddenly stepping up beside me.

Nenet: “And she is more of the true crown’s justice than you could ever be.”

Auren: “Subtle,”

I murmur as I slip the bag of supplies off my shoulder and let it drop to the ground.

Nenet: “There’s a time for subtle and a time to kick ’em in the balls. This is the latter.”

Auren: “Right.”


Royal Guard: “You will pay for that.”

I shrug.

Auren: “I’m made of gold. I can afford it.”


Auren: “You’re done terrorizing Geisel. It’s time for you to leave.”

An ugly look crosses Algae’s face.

Royal Guard: “I will burn Geisel to the ground and make you watch unless you submit.”

The fiercely fae part of me snarls.

Auren: “I don’t submit.”


I’m furious. Feral.

And Annwyn…the air, the very land itself, seems to thrum through me. Like she’s saying, there you are.


I promised her I’d be the villain on her behalf.

So that’s what I’ll fucking be.


It reminds me of another moment—another arctic shore not far from here. Where Auren and I stood on a beach and watched a mourning moon. Where she first started to see me but was still too blind to see herself.

Even then, I saw her.

I could feel her strength, her brightness brimming beneath her surface, just waiting to come out. It didn’t matter that the world constantly tried to snuff out her gleam.

She shone anyway.

It’s how I found her. Her aura, glowing against the blackest night, lighting up the sky and making the sailless ship glow. It called me like a beacon. As if fate itself was showing me the way. Reminding me for the first time in so long that I wasn’t just torn in half and uprooted—but that I was also fae.

Just like her.

Ever since, she has been my light. For someone with a soul as black as mine, who’s done the darkest deeds and has the foulest power, her glow is something I will not give up. Without her, I am darkness and death, and that is what I will be until I get her back.


Captain Quarter:Commander Rip?”

Slade: “Captain Quarter.”

He looks around, like he’s worried someone will hear me.

Captain Quarter: “Go by Quarry here.”

Slade: “I don’t care if you go by Dickhead. You’ll answer to me.”


He spits at my boots, spraying his blood all over them. I cock an unimpressed brow.

Slade: “I stepped in shit on the way here, but your blood is still more disgusting.”


Slade: “You’re going to go back to Berg Sheets. You’re going to get those horses you stole, and you’re going to deliver them to Fourth Kingdom in perfect condition, or I’m going to tell my king and have him rot your asshole and shrivel your dick. Do you understand?”


Malina: "The sooner we get there, the sooner we won’t have to deal with each other anymore,”

I snap, but for some reason, it rings like a lie. He turns toward me, bright white teeth glinting in a mean smile.

Dommik: “I like dealing with you just fine.”


Dommik: “You’re not in charge.”

Malina: “I’m a queen,”

I say, chin lifting.

Dommik: “You’re not a queen until someone willingly bows at your feet.”

Malina: “Then get on your knees, assassin, and bow.”

The cruelest, most wicked grin spreads up his face.

Dommik: “If I get on my knees, it will be for an entirely different sort of devotion that would have nothing to do with you being a queen.”


Yet I know the very last thing he’d want from me is pity. So I say,

Malina: “Looking at you? No, I quite like that. It’s listening to you that I can’t stand.”

He bursts out with a noise of surprise, staring at me with a sort of incredulity. Then he shakes his head as if to clear it. Dommik: “You like looking at me?”

The question is quiet.

Subtle.

Heavy.

My lips part, ready to tell him something cutting. Something to take away the complicated softness of what I said.

The truth comes out instead.

Malina: “I do.”

He takes in a sharp breath. All full of edges. I can feel it scrape against me, dangerous and honed.

Dommik: “I like looking at you too, Queenie.”

My palms tingle. Gashes blooming with gentle snow.

Malina: “Why?”

I ask him quietly. Ask myself. The assassin just shrugs.

Dommik: “I don’t know.”

Neither do I.


Dommik: “Stop making me chase you, woman,”

Malina: “I’m not making you do anything, man,”


Dommik: “Stubborn fucking woman.”

I finally snap out of my foolishness and wrench myself from him, shoving his arm away.

Malina: “There’s a reason assassin starts with the word ass.”

Dommik: “Talking about my ass now, Queenie?”

My temper flares.

Malina: “I’m talking about you being one.”

He smirks.

Dommik: “Sure you are.”


Dommik: “Why waste your time and effort doing anything at all?”

Malina: “Because you were right!”

I shout, whipping toward him with accusation in my eyes and a horrible clawing feeling in my throat.

Dommik: “Right about what?”

Malina: “That I have always wanted to be a queen for the wrong reasons. That I’m spoiled. That I’m a cold-hearted bitch. That my people don’t want me. Just like my husband. Just like my father.”

To my horror, my voice snaps, pitching higher with an emotion I’ve held back for so long. I’m not sure I’ve ever allowed myself to feel this way. Not even sure that I could.

Malina: “I brought the fae over the bridge,”

I say, tone hollow, heart aching.

Malina: “It’s my fault everyone here is dead. Just like the rest of Highbell and even Orea will be if we can’t stop them.”

I was born to wear a crown. Yet without magic, I was never enough. No matter what I did, or learned, or gave, or married. I was a failure because I didn’t have the power necessary to hold the throne. Because I wasn’t able to fulfill my role of birthing an heir to continue the bloodline. If my anger is solid ice, my sadness is a slush.

Malina: “You say I only wanted to be queen for the wrong reasons,”

I say quietly, cold tears gathering in the thinnest line above my lid.

Malina: “All my life, I’ve only been wanted for the wrong reasons. Never for me. Only for what I could give the crown or give the men who wore one. So yes. It’s my fault. I was offered my heart’s desire. I was offered the right to rule. I was lured with magic, and I took it. I brought the fae over the bridge. It’s my fault everyone here is dead. All because I wanted to be worth something. To finally have what I’d lacked. And now, I’ve doomed the very kingdom I wanted to rule.”


Dommik: “You misunderstand me, Cold Queen,”

he says, finally dropping my hand. I have to fight the sudden and annoying urge to ask him to snatch it back up.

Dommik: “I’m saying you need to get a handle on your emotions as in use them. Stop repressing yourself. What are you feeling right now? Right when that ice formed on your hands?”

Malina: “Anger. Anger and…”

Dommik: “And what?”

Malina: “Sadness.”

I swallow hard.

Malina: “Guilt.”

The admission falls from my lips like the first sprays of rain. Unexpected. Surprising. Leaving me looking up and wondering where to go from here. Do I dry up or flood it all?

Dommik: “You know what, Cold Queen?”

Malina: “What?”

He gives the slightest curve of his lips.

Dommik: “You might actually have a heart after all.”

I let out a shaken breath.

Malina: “I’m not sure I should count that as a compliment.”

Dommik: “But you will anyway.”

He’s arrogant. He’s also right. The assassin slips a dagger out of the sheath at his hip and offers it to me. I hesitate, gaze snatching up.

Malina: “Time to help your people, Malina.”

Yes, it is.


As if he can sense my thoughts, he says,

Dommik: “The dead have no use for the things in this world anymore.”

Malina: “But the world has great use for the dead.”


Dommik: “Having a good stare?”

he spits at me, like he can’t stand my gaze on his face any longer, and it cuts me down. I thought we’d gotten past this, but this ingrained vulnerability in him is still very much there.

Dommik: “That’s why I keep the hood on—that’s why people call me Hood. They’re not very inventive.”

My lips press together and I snap back.

Malina: “Oh, shut up. I already told you I like looking at you. I’m not staring, I’m…gazing.”


Dommik: “Don’t turn cold on me now, Queenie. Just admit it. You like this, don’t you?”

Malina: “I will not admit that,”

I snip, refusing to look at him, gaze trained on the mountainside instead.

Dommik: “Interesting choice of words. You didn’t answer the question, did you?”

It hasn’t escaped my notice that he’s still holding on to me, and I do nothing to pull away. My legs part ever so slightly, hips still turned in his direction. If I were to take a single step, our bodies would be completely flush against each other…

Dommik: “Admit it…”

His words are right at my ear, hot breath ruffling my white hair.

Dommik: “I bet if I were to slip my hand beneath your skirt, I’d find the Cold Queen isn’t so cold between her thighs.”

He yanks me forward, tearing a gasp from my throat, my head tilting up at him as my lips part in shock. Shock…and a surge of desire. One hand drops down, and he suddenly grips me right over my core, my layers of clothing bunching up at his touch. An unbidden moan slips past my lips that makes his mouth curl in a predatory smirk.

Dommik: “Admit that there’s a needy throb beating in your clit, that this cunt is searing hot, aching for me to sink my fingers into it.”

I lift my chin in defiance, even though I’m panting.

Malina: “It’s not, assassin.”

He laughs darkly, making a thrill pulse through me, my body doing just as he said.

Dommik: “I love when you get haughty and show your claws. It makes me want to bend you over and take you down a notch.”

That image immediately springs to my mind and makes a whine crawl up my throat.

Dommik: “You like that, don’t you?”

Malina: “No.”

Dommik: “Keep lying,”

he says, teeth flashing with elation.

Dommik: “I fucking like it. It reminds me of being on the chase for one of my marks. And do you know why I like the chase?”

He scrapes his mouth against my neck, and I know the coarse hair of his beard will leave marks on my delicate skin, but I find I like that too.

Dommik: “It heats my blood. Makes me want to taunt my target. To draw out the hunt even more before my…blade sinks into them.”

He punctuates the word blade with two of his fingers hooking up against me.


Manu: “I swore blind loyalty to my sister. It wasn’t personal.”

Osrik: “If you turn a blind eye in the name of loyalty, then you don’t deserve to see.”


Auren: “We have to stand against this. Who better than a broken-winged bird to show everyone how to rise? Who better than the Lyäri Ulvêre to remind them that the darkness can’t stop the dawn?”

His eyes flick between mine.

Wick: “We need your help, Auren. It can only be you.”


Ryatt: “You want to spar now? You look like you’re one breath away from tipping over.”

I shrug.

Slade: “Fighting helps.”

Ryatt: “Fucking hell. Fine,”

he says as he heaves himself up.

Ryatt: “You’re sleep-deprived and your heart is rotting, so I’ll put you on your ass in ten seconds flat.”

I snort.

Slade: “Sure. Go ahead and tell yourself that.”

I lead him out of the room and down the stairs.

Ryatt: “You’d better sleep after this, or I’ll knock you out myself and fucking force you to rest,”

Spoken like a true brother.


Grief isn’t based on someone’s length of presence. It’s based on the impact of their absence.

Emonie looks across the water at me, and I feel like she’s seeing me and not the Lyäri Ulvêre.

Emonie: “Some people are in your life for only a moment, like a shooting star. Quick and short, but they light up a part of you for a second, and their brightness lingers even after they’re gone.”


Emonie: “What’s he like?”

Auren: “Wonderful. Intense. A bit…rotten,”

I say with a smirk.

Emonie:Oh. A dangerous male. I like those too.”


Emonie: "You really took the whole gilded Turley thing literally, huh?”

she adds, gesturing toward me.

Emonie: “Instead of having one gilded thing, you’re a whole gilded thing. It’s flashy. I like it.”


Emonie: “So…what’s with the fabric glued to your back? Taking that broken-winged bird thing literally too? It’s very theatrical.”

I chuckle, looking at her over my shoulder as I slip on my gold arm cuffs before pulling the brown shirt over my head.

Auren: “They’re not glued.”

Emonie: “Weird,”

she says as she looks at them. Then she seems to catch herself, and quickly adds,

Emonie: “I mean pretty. Very pretty. And unique.”


Emonie: “Look at us. Friends already because my plan worked. It was the soap that really made you like me, huh?”

I smile and shift my head deeper into the pillow.

Auren: “No, you had me at the hot water.”


Auren: “What about other rebels? Do you get involved with them?”

She teeters her head.

Emonie: “Here and there. But males are so exhausting, you know? Always demanding commitment when it’s convenient for them.”

Auren: “Run into that problem a lot?”

Emonie: “Of course,”

she replies with a wistful sigh.

Emonie: “Plenty of them fall madly in love with me. But I live a treacherous life of a Vulmi. I can’t be tamed, Lyäri.”

A laugh tapers out of me.

Auren: “And you shouldn’t be.”

Emonie glances over.

Emonie: “And what about this…dangerous lover of yours? Did he tame you?”

The smile on my face goes sad, a fresh pang of longing pinching the center of my chest.

Auren: “The opposite. He set me free.”


Maybe my tears thin the veil between past and present, because I suddenly hear my mother’s faint voice at my ear.

Mother:My little sun, where is your shine?”

Auren: “It’s here, mama,”

I said to her, even as I cried. Because no matter the reason for my sadness, she could fix it. She could always fix it.

Mother: “Good, my girl. Because all I want is for you to be happy. You have your own light, little sun. So you must carry it with you when it grows dark. But you can do that. Because we are strong, aren’t we?”


My mother's voice is an echo through the breeze.

We are strong, aren't we?

Aren't we.


Emonie: “If you move me, I will forage someone’s shoe and throw it right at your beautiful face,”

she grumbles, eyes still shut.

Auren: “I’ll turn your hair solid gold so you can’t lift your head from that pillow,”

I mutter back. She hums croakily.

Emonie: “That actually sounds nice. Then I wouldn’t have to get up.”

She’s got a point.


Auren: “Great Divine, I think I might vomit,”

I say through my fingers.

Emonie: “Really?”

She looks around.

Emonie: “Better gold yourself a bowl.”


What must it say about me, that the most dependable hand I’ve ever held is in the grasp of my assassin?


Dommik: “I gotta ask…”

Dommik begins as the two of us stare at the castle.

Dommik: “Was he trying to compensate for something?”

My lips curve.

Malina: “A great many things, I think.”

Dommik: “Bold move to gild an entire castle.”

Malina: “That’s all Tyndall is. Bold moves and smarmy charm.”

Dommik: “But you’re still married to him in the eyes of the gods?”

Malina: “For now.”

My gaze casts sideways.

Malina: “Perhaps I should simply hire your services. You can assassinate him instead of me.”

He turns, hooded face revealing a hint of a smirk beneath.

Dommik: “Can you afford me? I’m expensive.”

I gesture to the castle.

Malina: “Take whatever gold you can hack off as payment.”


Malina: “You can’t just shadow-leap me out?”

Dommik: “I can’t go through solid objects.”

Malina: “Back in Seventh Kingdom, you went into my room…”

Dommik: “I had the key, remember?”

Malina: “But I never heard the door open.”

His eyes flick up to mine.

Dommik: “I’m good at being quiet.”

I swallow hard.

Malina: “And…how many times did you sneak into my room without me knowing?”

Dommik: “Often.”

He says that word suggestively. Voice even rougher than his usual rasp. My stomach fills with flurries.

Malina: “And…when I bathed…”

His lips curve, fingers paused on his task, his handsome face completely focused on me instead.

Dommik: “Do you think I watched you?”

he asks in a low tone—a wicked one.

Dommik: “Do you think I stayed hidden in the shadows while you peeled off your dress and sunk into the cold water? That I watched the nipples on your tits pucker?”

A flush creeps up my cheeks, but I clear my throat.

Malina: “It would’ve been very improper if you had.”

The thought of him watching me, desiring me when I didn’t know he was there, when we hated each other, fills me with that twisted thrill that only he can bring me.

Dommik: “Well…I didn’t,”

he finishes, tone back to normal. I deflate.

Dommik: “But I was tempted,”

he adds as he gets back to picking the lock. I waver slightly on my feet, gripping the bars for stability.

Malina: “Well, I am glad you didn’t follow through with your debauched and immoral impulses, assassin.”

He lets out a chuckle, shaking his head.

Dommik: “You’re very good.”

Malina: “At what?”

Dommik: “Lying.”


Malina: “Highbell is my home. I won’t just stand by and let it be destroyed. It’s my duty to protect it, whether they want me to or not.”

Something like quiet pride flows through his face, and then he reaches down and takes my hand, his warmth pressing into each finger.

Dommik: “You’re sounding like a queen for the right reasons now.”


Malina: “She can be your queen all you like, and she may well and truly be a better one than me. But Highbell is, and always has been, my home.”

I look him steadily in the eye, let him see the truth of it in my white hair and icy blue eyes.

Malina: “My family has lived and reigned here for generations, and we Coliers have always been loyal to Highbell. If nothing else, you know that about me. The fae are coming, General, and their numbers are vast. We must ready for attack.”


Malina: “I started having formal riding lessons when I was two,”

I point out as I watch him ready the saddle. The horse’s body is thick with long white hair, mane trimmed and braided intricately.

Dommik: “And I’ve been riding wild stallions barebacked since my cock got hard for the first time. You’re still riding with me, Queenie.”


Malina: “I don’t think—”

Dommik: “Good. Don’t,”

He reaches forward with both arms on either side of me, and I expect him to take the reins, but he picks them up and hands them to me instead. I grip them, and he moves his hands to grip me. One staying at my bunched skirt, and the other splayed against my stomach.

Malina: “I can ride alone,”

I say, though my voice sounds breathy now. His touch is bleeding warmth into me despite my clothing. Though it’s nothing to the heat that erupts when he suddenly yanks me back into him until my ass is flush with his groin. I suck in a breath. His head comes down, mouth at my ear and voice deliciously rough.

Dommik: “You’re riding with me.”

All my previous arguments have died away. I can’t think of them with his body so close to mine, and I find I don’t want to.

Dommik: “Admit it. You like it.”

Malina: “I don’t…dislike it.”


Dommik: “Got a bit distracted, Queenie?”

I grit my teeth, though I’m still breathing hard.

Malina: “This is why we shouldn’t have ridden together!”

Dommik: “Oh, I disagree. We should do a lot of riding,”

he says wickedly. My stomach flutters with a burst of icicle butterflies. So I jab my elbow into his stomach to ensure he feels something irritating too. He lets out an oomph, which is reward enough.

Dommik: “Keep it up, Malina,”

he says, his tone darkly playful. I look at him over my shoulder, our eyes meeting.

Malina: “I intend to.”

His lips curve.

Dommik: “Good.”


Perhaps Kaila is right. Perhaps I’m not wanted.

But I am needed.


Please

My eyes are shut tight, my hands shaking, everything in me coiled with a desperation that seems larger than life itself.

Because I regret.

I regret allowing my powerless life to mold me. I regret not standing up to my father. I regret marrying Midas. I regret allowing him to keep a woman in a cage. I regret looking down on the very people I was meant to serve. I regret taking everything for granted.

I regret becoming this bitter, cold woman, and I want to let that cold out. To make it do something good.

Please


Love happens in all kinds of ways.

He was right when he said that. Love does happen in all kinds of ways. But our kind happened like the dawn.

The dawn doesn’t question when to appear. It simply does.

He walked into my life with the surety of his presence, and from that point on, the night began to wane.


Ludogar shoots her a look.

Ludogar: “Don’t even think about it.”

She glances over her shoulder at him as she continues to walk the length of the wall.

Emonie: “What?”

she asks innocently, though her molten eyes dart left and right. His teal eyes, however, are unwavering.

Ludogar: “You cannot, under any circumstances, steal something from this place.”

She stops and holds up a finger.

Emonie: “Firstly, it’s called foraging. And secondly—”

Another finger juts up, but she pauses.

Emonie: “Umm…why not?”

He lets out a huff and looks at the rest of us, but Wick sits down and busies himself with taking a drink from his water skin, while Marox and Ogith avoid eye contact.

Ludogar: “This place is sacred,”

Ludo says, like it should be obvious.

Ludogar: “It was built for the goddesses.”

She hums thoughtfully.

Emonie: “Which one?”

His brows draw together.

Ludogar: “Does it matter?”

Emonie: “Does it matter. Of course it matters. Say this was the temple of Dronidylis. She was the goddess of favor and filch. She would love for someone to steal from her temple. It would delight her.”


Wick looks me up and down.

Wick: “You’ll do.”

Auren: “Dazzling compliment.”

Wick: “Dazzling is exactly what we don’t want you to be in this city.”

Emonie pats me on the arm reassuringly.

Emonie: “You’re still dazzling on the inside.”


Osrik: “Is that any way to greet me?”

Slade: “Os,”

I say through gritted teeth.

Slade: “Could you kindly fuck off?”

With a chuckle, he releases me.

Osrik: “There’s those kingly manners.”


Slade: “I’m not sure anything topical will actually help,”

Hojat: “Perhaps not. But at the very least, it will soothe the aggravated skin.”

Osrik: “Aggravated? It’s not aggravated, it’s fucking decaying. It looks like shit.”

Slade: “Thanks, Os,”


Judd: “You could’ve mentioned you were rotting from the inside out when we were in Derfort,”

Judd says from where he sits in my chair, legs crossed at the ankles.

Judd: “Just might be something worth bringing up to your closest friends.”

Slade: “I was busy.”

Judd: “I should kick your ass.”

I roll my eyes but hiss again when Hojat goes right over the center at a particularly painful spot.

Slade: “You can’t kick my ass, Judd.”

Judd: “Fine. Os, punch him for me.”

Osrik clocks me in the head so hard my entire body jolts.

Slade: Fuck!”

Hojat doesn’t miss a beat. Just keeps slathering. I glare at Os.

Slade: “You fucking asshole, I’m rotting.”

He crosses his huge arms in front of him and shrugs.

Osrik: “Tell us next time."


Hojat: “Your pulse is very erratic.”

Judd: “Well, his heart is rotting, mender, so I think that’s to be expected,”

Osrik: “Looks like someone shat out coals on his chest,”

Osrik adds with a smirk. Judd howls in laughter.

Judd: “It fucking does!”

I sigh and let my head fall back onto my pillow.

Slade: “I need a new Wrath.”


I’ve never been good at words. Not good at giving compliments. But right now, I wish I was. Because if I were, I’d give them to her.

I’d give her whatever fucking words she wants.


Osrik: “You were supposed to wake up,”

I tell her as torment slides down my tongue. As the evidence of my misery lands in dots against her pink nightgown.

Osrik: “We were supposed to have time to make this mistake over and over again, until you finally realized how right it really is.”


His mouth is at my ear.

Dommik: “If the thought of me playing with you with my blade gets you hot, just say that,”

he purrs. My eyes flare, my cheeks are flushed, and when he pulls back and puts the blade away, I have to fight not to let out a noise of disappointment. At least the crowd can’t see us. I brush my hands down the front of my dress as if I can brush away the tingling trail he left behind.

Malina: “It does not make me hot.”

His lips curve at the lie.

Dommik: “Should I scoop up your skirt and see for myself?”

Malina: “No,”

I snap, shoving him away as he chuckles deeply. I’ve lost my mind…and my body, apparently, because he’s right. I am hot—all over—but especially there.

Malina: “We have a battle to prepare for.”

He shrugs a shoulder.

Dommik: “Don’t you know? A pre-battle fuck is what all the soldiers do. Gets their blood pumping. Reminds them what they’d miss out on if they lose.”

Malina: “Another reason why women are superior,”

His chuckle comes back tenfold.

Dommik: “You’ll find no argument from me.”

Malina: “That’s a first.”

Dommik: “Careful, Queenie. I might think you’re flirting back with me.”

Is that what I’m doing? Flirting? I clear my throat and force my mind to go back to the task at hand.

Malina: “Go, assassin.”

Dommik: “Okay, but remember what I said.”

Malina: “Yes, yes, threats and demands. Now go away.”


Dommik: “I leave like you tell me to, and then when I return, I find that you’ve used your magic so much you drained yourself into collapsing.”

Malina: “You keep saying that word, and it’s getting on my nerves.”

Dommik: “You’re getting on my nerves!”

Malina: “Then leave me be, assassin!”

He surges forward and grips my arms again.

Dommik: “I can’t leave you be, you insufferable, cold woman, because for some fucking reason, you’ve gotten under my skin so much that I now crave the ice of your touch.”

My breath catches and I stare into his dark eyes, at the little flecks of light that float through them.

Malina: “You…you crave me?”

Dommik: “Yes,”

he snarls, his voice rubbed raw in grit.

Dommik: “I can’t sleep, because I’m too busy watching you breathe. I can’t think, because my mind wanders to you. And when I should’ve just slit your throat a hundred times over in Seventh Kingdom, I didn’t, because I wanted to watch you instead and see how far down your cold really went.”

My breath feels shallow, his grip on my arms exuding a heat that seeps in all the way through my skin. His presence, his voice, his touch—everything about him, from the dangerous air he carries to the handsome lines of his face—they all pull me toward him. Make my nerves light up and my senses magnify. The man meant to bring me my death makes me feel more alive than ever.

Malina: “And?”

the question drags out of me in a whisper.

Malina: “How far does my cold go?”

Right now, I can’t feel my cold at all. All I feel is his heat. Against my breasts as his chest presses into me, through my sleeves where he’s gripping me, the searing breath on my cheek as he exhales hard.

Dommik: “It goes all the way through,”

he says roughly, though his touch has gentled.

Dommik: “But you know what I figured out, Queenie?”

My mouth feels dry despite the lump of snow I just swallowed.

Malina: “What?”

Dommik: “Your cold burns far better than fire.”


I tremble, because I’m so pent up, so filled with want… So incredibly terrified. Every man I’ve ever opened for has always trodden on me. Burned my heart to ash and left me to scrape up the remnants. So perhaps my heart is made of ice, but if it is, it’s because I had to freeze it just to get all the flaked parts to stay together. I became the cold that everyone saw me as, and the cold protected me. Because what is a burn if you’re already numb?


His eyes flare in angry disbelief.

Dommik: “Malina, you just collapsed—”

That word again. I pin him with a sharp look.

Malina: “Yes, and you know, that was quite a refreshing rest. I’m ready to do more magic now.”

Dommik: “You’re a pain in my ass,”

Malina: “You kissed me, but now I’m a pain in your ass?”

Dommik: “Going to keep thinking about that kiss, aren’t you? Maybe you’ll dream of it the next time you collapse?”


Dommik: “You want death?”

he grits out, his challenge lashing against my face and spreading heat with each hit.

Dommik: “I’m your fucking death. I will consume you so thoroughly there won’t be a wish for any end, because no end will release you from me.”


Dommik: “I’m your assassin. Which means I’m in charge of your death. You got that?”

I whimper and nod, trying to grind against him, but he keeps me pinned.

Dommik: “Tell me, Queenie.”

My gaze lifts to his, binding together.

Malina: “You’re in charge. You’re my assassin.”

Dommik: “That’s right,”

he says, beard scouring against my cheek as he drags his lips across, spreading his steady warmth.

Dommik: “And you’re my queen. So I will get on my knees and bow.”


Malina: “Make me come,”

I tell him as my frost flakes over his shoulders, the white clumps bunching into his cloak.

Malina: “Make it hard.”

A crude chuckle slips out of him.

Dommik: “As my queen wishes.”


Malina: “Gods…”

He wraps one hand around my throat and tips up my head.

Dommik: “I’m your god.”


Slade: “Are you going to tell me what it is, or are you just going to keep standing there with that look on your face?”

Judd: “Option three. Come see for yourself.”


Hojat steps up beside me.

Hojat: “Captain, sometimes, our loved ones need to hear that it’s okay for them to pass on…”

Osrik: “It’s not okay,”

I tell him. Tell her. I want her to keep fighting. If that makes me selfish, well, I never fucking said I wasn’t. We fought in life, we can fight in death. Till the bitter end.


But I’m a Colier. I have always been and will always be a Colier. A captain goes down with his ship, and a queen goes down with her kingdom. I lift my hand and press it against his warm cheek, and it melts the tiny fragments of ice scabbed to my palm. My nails are startlingly blue as I brush my fingers over his skin.

Malina: “Thank you.”

He blinks in surprise.

Dommik: “For what?”

My throat feels tight, like my emotions have collared it.

Malina: “For saving me.”

I swallow hard.

Malina: “For saving all of me.”


The things I did to help seem so pitifully insignificant.

Malina: “I couldn’t stop them.”

My words pitch down just like the icicle pine needles, landing at my feet. But the blood-spattered woman just shakes her head.

Dommik: “Who could, my queen?”


Kaila: “We have no hope against fighting them. We three may have magic, and a scattering of other Oreans throughout the kingdoms, but it’ll be nothing compared to the abilities or numbers that they have.”

Thold: “We do not roll over and show our bellies in the face of attack!”

Thold shouts at her, making her flinch from his ire.

Thold: “We bare our teeth and bite back!”


Kaila: “Besides, you murdered King and Queen Merewen. You cast out your rot around Third Kingdom and spread fear to every corner. You weakened us right when we needed to be strong and united! You’re no hero.”

I don’t deny it. She’s right. I’m no hero. But it’s the consequences of her actions that pushed me to be the villain I warned I would be.

Slade: “Whose fault is that?”

I ask in a deadly quiet tone. She blanches. That’s what I fucking thought.


Stone King: “You’re supposed to be dead.”

Auren: “You fucking will be,”

I spit out.


 

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