Ben grinned impishly. “So,” he said, cocking his head. “How was it?”
I bit my lower lip, blood rushing to my cheeks. “How was… um, what exactly?”
He broke out in a chuckle. “Seriously? You’re going to make me spell it out? All right. Let’s put it another way… Did I… uh, tinker with all the right bells?”
My breath hitched just remembering it. “Oh, you did. It’s really no wonder they call you Tinkerbell.”
He narrowed his eyes on me. “You will be moaning that name by the time I’m finished with you.”
Without warning he lurched forward and grabbed me. Straddling my hips, he began tickling me in all the worst places. My stomach wound up in knots from laugher, I cried out, “No, stop! Please! Mercy! Mercy, Tinkerbell!”
Only after I’d gasped the name did he stop, allowing me to sit up and catch my breath.
Then his eyes dropped to my bare abdomen, the smile on his face fading. I knew what he was looking at.
I’d forgotten all about the scar. I still hadn’t told him what had happened to me. I hadn’t told anyone, not even my mother. It was still painful to talk about because I did not know exactly what they had done, what they might have put in me or taken from me… or maybe they’d just looked around. It was the uncertainty of it all that made me anxious. And I didn’t want to worry Ben. But he had seen it now.
“It’s, um…” Still, I hesitated.
The concerned look in Ben’s eyes only intensified. “It’s what, River?” He was dead serious now.
“When I was in the hunters’ headquarters—“
He cursed beneath his breath.
“What?” I asked him.
“Go on,” he said.
“Yeah, well when I was there… they did something to me. But I’m not sure what it was. They took me to an operating room and drugged me.” My voice shook a little as I relived the trauma. “When I woke up I had the scar, but it didn’t hurt. M-Maybe they just examined me.”
Ben’s jaw clenched. “And have you experienced any pain since? Any symptoms at all that could be considered… unusual?”
I shook my head. “No, thank God. I’ve noticed nothing out of the ordinary.”
His fingertips moved to my scar and lingered there for a few seconds. Then, reaching his hands into my hair, he pressed a firm kiss against my forehead.
“If you haven’t experienced any symptoms by now, then I’m guessing they’ve done nothing that will affect you personally, and that’s all that matters to me right now. They might have simply taken a sample from you for experimentation… for one of their future projects. But we should have Corrine examine you when we return to The Shade.” He paused, a flash of anger in his eyes. “And if we ever do come across the group of hunters who did this to you, I swear, they will sorely regret it.”
We ended up staying in The Hearthlands for three more days after the wedding. The dragons took us for more rides outside, showing us the entire land right up to its tip, the Obran peninsula.
I enjoyed spending more time with Rose and getting to know Nell better was a treat too. We got on like a house on fire, the three of us, and we spent much time chatting and going for walks when I wasn’t relishing the moments I had with my new husband.
It was truly sad when we had to leave, though Theon and Nell promised to visit The Shade some time soon—a promise that Lethe made to me, too.
Our party traveled back to The Shade—including the newly-wed dragons we’d come with. When we returned, to Ben’s and my utter surprise, it was to discover a brand-new penthouse. A gift to us from Derek and Sofia. The witches who had remained behind on the island had built it while we were gone. It was not far from the other treehouses, but it was far enough to give us a sense of privacy. We couldn’t see any other homes from any of the windows and instead were surrounded by trees, with a magnificent panoramic view of the island.
With the wedding over, after Ben and I had settled into our new home together, he took me to see Corrine about my scar. She performed a number of examinations—during most of which she’d made me unconscious—and in the end she couldn’t find any odd insertions, or signs that the hunters had removed anything major from me. She’d said, however, that it was possible they could have extracted an egg or two. If they had, there was nothing we could do about it. I was just relieved they hadn’t damaged me.
Once Corrine let me out of the Sanctuary and Ben and I returned to our penthouse, I felt a burning desire to do something that I probably should’ve done before now, if I had just had the chance.
My father. I had promised him all those months ago that I would try to visit him. Starting this brand-new chapter of my life with Ben felt like the right time. I expressed my desire to Ben and of course he was supportive. I asked him if he would come with me and he said he would. My mother thought it best that I see what state my father was in before my other siblings visited. My sisters, still being young, could be easily upset, and Jamil’s mind was also still fragile in some ways. If my father was okay, we would go to see him together afterward, and then make a much needed visit to my grandfather.
So Ben and I set off together. One of the perks of being married to a fae was that you never needed to rely on any kind of transport. He could fly wherever we needed to much faster than a plane. I knew which prison my father was staying at, and we brought a bunch of maps and navigating equipment.