“I’m afraid I do not know,” I said, bowing low. “We are only messengers. Will you come with us to see her ladyship?”

Horatio stumbled for words for several moments, narrowing his eyes on us and running a hand through his hair. Finally he shrugged and said, “A-all right. Take me to her.”

Clearly his affection for her was—or had been—as strong as I’d hoped for him to agree to come with two strange fae, on the promise of meeting her on the other side of a portal.

But I hadn’t expected him to agree quite so easily. And now, as Lucas and I sped with Horatio toward the portal, I found myself wondering what the hell I’d just done.

Ben

My gut was churning as we passed through the gate. My first instinct was to take him to Aisha, because she had a history with him. He had helped her before—albeit against her will—and if anybody had a chance of obtaining information from him, it was her, certainly not me or Lucas. Especially while he was in a mood over his father.

I’d entered the portal first, hoping to have at least a few seconds to warn Aisha of his arrival and what I had just gotten her into. On the other end, I flew out to find everyone sitting among the rocks, looking tense. The dragons had spread their wings to protect the vampires from the sun.

“Horatio,” I hissed, barely even having the time to register River beneath Jeriad’s wing, my eyes shooting to Aisha. “He is coming, and—”

I didn’t have time to speak another word as he and Lucas darted out of the tunnel.

Horatio straightened and gazed around at our group. As he found Aisha, his deep green eyes softened a touch.

I winced at how shocked Aisha looked. She rose from her resting place beneath a tree, gaping. I hadn’t had a chance to even explain to her what I had said. I just had to pray that things worked out for the best.

Horatio moved cautiously toward her. “You… uh, wanted me?” he asked.

Aisha’s eyes darted to me. I widened my eyes and mouthed “Say yes!”

“Yes,” Aisha said, reverting her attention to Horatio. The most unconvincing “yes” that was ever spoken.

Horatio raised a brow, looking around again at our group, before fixing on the dragons. “Why are you with these people?”

Aisha cleared her throat to buy herself some time. “I, uh…” My gut clenched as there was a pause. Then she found her line. “I need my family back,” she said, her voice suddenly strained. And I could see from the tears lining her eyes that this was no act.

Horatio ran a hand through his dark curls, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “I already told you. Your family is in my father’s clutches. You need to move on.”

“I’d rather die than live without them,” she said, her tone bolder this time. “If you won’t help me, then at least allow me to try.” She planted her hands on her hips, her teary eyes hardening. A frown formed on her pixie-like face. “It’s my life. Who are you to decide what I can and cannot do? Remove the ban from me and let me try at least.”

“You’re insane!” he said, raising his hands in exasperation. “You’re young. You still have things to live for. You’ll be better off anywhere than back in The Dunes.”

“That’s for me to decide,” she said, teeth gritted. “I want to see my family again.”

Horatio pursed his lips, his jaw tightening. Agitation marred his chiseled features, and even a touch of disappointment. “So… So that’s all you wanted to see me about. Your family.”

“Yes,” she replied, her gaze steely. “I want to go to them. The Dunes are just as much my home as yours. Being a Drizan doesn’t make you God, you know.”

A muscle twitched in Horatio’s face and blood rose to his cheeks, as though she’d just slapped him. “I never claimed to be,” he murmured. “I was just… trying to protect you.”

Aisha’s glare didn’t relent, and I almost felt in that moment that she was being too harsh on him. He clearly liked her a lot, and I did believe him when he said he’d banished her for her own good.

I also found myself wondering just how he was so much stronger than Aisha that he could banish her from her own realm. Perhaps the Drizans were simply a superior race to the Nasiris in terms of magical prowess.

“All right,” Horatio breathed, deflated. Aisha’s glare had worn him down. “I’ll let you back in but… what exactly do you plan to do? Surely you don’t intend to just barge into our palace.”

“I need to find a way to free my family,” she said. As Horatio began to respond—most likely to repeat his statement that it was not possible—Aisha held up a hand and cut him off. “I don’t care what you say. I don’t believe there’s no way to get them out.”

Horatio scoffed. “You’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“And you’re a coward!”

Ouch.

A deathly silence descended upon the islet, Horatio looking as though he’d just been whacked in the gut.

Aisha—unrelenting as an angered bull—charged forward until she was barely two feet away from Horatio. Although she was half his height, her eyes appeared fiery enough to burn holes through Horatio’s. “You don’t agree with the things that your father’s doing. I know it. Yet you’ve let yourself become… this.” With two flicks of her hand, she gestured up and down Horatio’s imposing form, looking him over with great disdain. “You’re no longer anything like my old friend. You’ve just become your father’s shadow.” She paused, her nostrils flaring, then for good measure, added, “Your father’s pawn.” With that she folded her arms over her chest and pursed her lips, her brows knotting in a frown.

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