My breath hitched, ripples of pain and pleasure surging through me, as he finally made us one.

Ben

I was so drunk with passion, I could barely see straight. I’d never felt such all-consuming desire. I’d never told her this before, but as I was her first, she was mine. I’d had girlfriends in the past, but none of the relationships had ever been serious enough for us to get past second base.

River was more beautiful than I’d ever seen her now, her long glossy hair in soft curls. And I could behold her in all her beauty. As we made love deep into the night, I only fell further into her, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t imagine a life without River in it any more. I couldn’t imagine an existence without her. It would be vacant, useless.

As I brought River to her climax, tears of ecstasy spilled from her eyes as she gasped out my name. Burying my hands in her hair, I pressed my lips firmly against hers as I released my own tension.

We rolled over on the bed, breathless and sodden with sweat… and I felt more alive than I’d ever felt in my life.

Reaching for her still-trembling body, I pulled her flush against me and ran my hands slowly down the length of her back. She looked as lost in my eyes as I was in hers.

I remained caressing her until exhaustion finally stole her away from me. Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off her face. I hoped that fae could live a long time, because it felt to me that a hundred lifetimes wouldn’t be enough for us.

I sensed that she was getting cold. Detaching myself from her gently, I moved her closer to the centre of the mattress. I took a moment to take in the length of her body, the parts of her that had remained secret and shadowed for so long. Then I reached for the blanket, but as I pulled it up over her legs and was about to cover the rest of her with it, I spotted something on her lower stomach. A mark I could have sworn hadn’t been there before. A light scar that ran the width of her abdomen.

I frowned, looking at it more closely. Then I finished putting the blanket over her before sliding beneath it next to her. My hand slipped down to her abdomen, my fingers tracing the scar softly enough that she would not wake up.

How could she have gotten a scar like that? It was a huge scar… a surgical scar. The last time I’d seen her abdomen I guessed would have been the time I’d almost given into my passions back in The Oasis, just hours before I’d sent River back to The Shade with Corrine. She’d definitely had no scar then. We’d been naked in that oasis in The Dunes while waiting for Aisha, but the lower part of her had been hidden from me underwater.

Where else can she have gotten it but the hunters’ headquarters? What did they do to her? What could they have taken from her?

Frowning with worry, I looked at her face. Why didn’t you tell me, River?

She must’ve known that I would see it eventually. Maybe she had intended to tell me, but hadn’t found the right moment. I would ask her about it at the next opportunity.

For now, I stopped touching her scar.

I looked back up at the stars above us. I thought back to everything that had happened since I first left The Shade in one of the subs. Being held hostage in The Oasis, the discovery of the jinn, the defeating of the Elder, becoming a ghost and then managing—eventually— to find my way back again…. It was truly stranger than a fairytale. But without it all, I never would have met River. No matter the hardships, that was enough to make it all worth it. For her, I would do it all over again. Even bath time with that hunkri.

My mind lingered on Hortencia and the “lessons” she had been keen to share with me. Her gems of wisdom she’d said I needed to carry with me into the future… and her request for me to slay those Bloodless. My mind buzzed as I tried to make sense of what kind of future she was alluding to and what role the new breed of hunters would play in all of this.

But even as I pondered the possibilities, I realized I was no longer afraid of the future. What would happen, would happen. And I knew now that even if I lost this body again, life didn’t stop after death. I would live on in one way or another.

I never had found out what truly existed beyond death—the “other side”, the place where most people who died were purported to pass on to. I’d been trafficked to The Underworld before I had gotten the chance to discover the answer.

But as River woke in the early hours of the morning, and we began to make slow, passionate love all over again, that was a discovery I knew I could put off for a long, long time.

River

Ben was home. I’d never felt so secure, so confident, so at peace with myself and the world around me, as when I was in his arms.

I’d fallen asleep in exhaustion after our first time, but when I woke again, we continued making love until the sun streaked the sky above us. Only then did I sleep again, and so did Ben.

When I woke the second time, it was one pm according to Ben’s watch—though I doubted that time applied in the dragon realm. Ben was still asleep. Propping my head up on one elbow, I stared at his face. My gorgeous husband. My best friend. My man. My prince.

My heart leapt as his eyes finally opened, allowing me to admire his face in its full glory.

“Good morning, beautiful,” I whispered, beaming down at him.

He smiled back, his eyes glazed over. “You stole my line,” he said huskily, before pulling me to him and engulfing me in a cuddle.

We both sat up in bed and gazed around us. I hadn’t even realized what a mess we had made of the bed throughout the night. The sheet was half off the mattress, and of the dozen or so pillows that had sat on the bed, only two small ones remained.

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