“You’ve little need to smoke it now.”
Through the dissipating tendrils, he squinted at me. I clenched my thighs, bit my tongue, determined to ignore that burning want I still felt. “You and I both know that’s not true.”
A brow arched as I slumped to the edge of the bed. “Does that mean you now understand?”
He eyed where I was seated, and the space I’d left between us. “Oh, I understand just fine.” Another lungful of smoke vacated his lips, clouding his dark expression. “The question is, do you?”
I half rolled my eyes. “Now is not the time for riddles.”
“We are no riddle.” He straightened, emptying the pipe. Standing, he circled the bed, his bare feet eating up the cold floor in unhurried strides. “We are certainty mapped out by the stars.”
I blinked, my lips parting.
He snatched me around the waist, a large hand climbing my back to hug my nape. “We are linked, and there’s not a lick of anything you or anyone else can do about it.”
Dreams, distant and fading, passed between his eyes, flooding my mind. What it would be like to give in wholly to these violent feelings and let whatever happened happen…
The memory of Truin on the balcony seared, setting fire to every thought and erasing them.
I stepped back. “This kingdom needs Audra, the queen. Not Audra, the easily tricked, besotted fool who wants only to fuck every time she so much as scents you.”
Zad’s lips twitched.
“Really? You think it’s funny?” I marched to the doors, throwing one open.
“Audra,” he warned, sobering.
He could warn and growl and glare at me all he liked, but it wouldn’t change anything.
“You need to leave. You need to go home and stay there unless we have business to discuss.”
With russet brows hovering low over his bright eyes, he prowled closer. “You can’t do that. Now that the connection has been made, you can’t last longer than a few weeks. Less, being that it’s fresh, and you being so young.”
I sent a look at Ainx, who was stationed at the end of the hall outside my rooms. “You have no idea what I can and can’t do.”
His smile was sad with glimpses of affection. “I’m very much aware of all that you’re capable of. The entire continent is, but no one more than I.”
Crumbling while internally screaming, I licked my lips, staring down at the ground while he tugged on his pants and collected his shirt.
His toes came into view, fingers tipping up my chin. “You can kick me out, but it changes nothing, and you know it.”
Ainx stepped into the room, and without removing his eyes from mine, Zad huffed, his head shaking. I pushed his fingers away, stepping back. “Leave or be escorted out.”
“I’ve already told you I’m not going anywhere,” he said, finally moving into the doorway.
Curling my fingers, I swept his boots into the air and out into the hall. “Goodbye, Zad. Enjoy your wife.” I watched as he shrugged Ainx off. “If she’s half as crazy as I am, then I’m sure you will.”
Then I closed the door.
I knocked and banged and threatened to drain the blood of any guard who so much as neared me to no avail.
I woke on the ice-cold floor, my nostrils flaring at the scent of lavender and crisp wind, as Audra stepped over me and continued down the hall.
My back spasmed as I launched to my feet and raced after her. Outside the dining room, I caught her delicate wrist.
She tugged it free and called, “Ainx, have the lord removed from the castle grounds.” When Ainx paused, uncertain, she snapped, “Now.”
The doors boomed to a close in my face, almost catching the tip of my nose between them.
“Come on,” Ainx said, remorse lining the words.
With a sigh, I turned to him. “We will fight if I do not leave, correct?” While my very bones groaned at the idea of going, and my hands curled, readying to strike, I knew it would be futile.
I might win, but I’d lose in other unspeakable ways.
Azela rounded the corner, braiding her hair. “Yes.” Her lips were pinched as she tied off her braid, then gestured down the hall.
I nodded, staring back at the dining room doors. Knowing that this wasn’t what she truly wanted made walking away that much harder to do.
The streets were bathed in sunlight, but the breeze was iced, the wind gathering speed as we neared the castle gates.
On black spires, high above our heads, loomed the rotting genitalia of the scum Audra had ended. “Are they all dead now?” I asked, the guards opening the gates.
Ainx yawned. “The last one died in the early hours of this morning.”
I withheld the wince, barely able to imagine the horrific pain that would’ve followed him to his dying breath. It was nothing more than he deserved. “Good.”