“Yes, you did,” I mumbled.
Kieran started before looking down at me, his gaze so open. His depths laid bare. “Is she here?”
“Yes. She followed you in.” I told him what she’d said about his father. I figured he’d want to know, in case she’d never told him of the good times. In case he couldn’t understand why she’d fallen for a guy like his father, who’d put her through hell.
He blew out a deep breath and nodded. “I want to do this now. She’s waited long enough. Even if you can’t find the person who did this for my father, at least she’ll be free. But…” He squeezed my hand. “Can I have a few moments with her? To say goodbye.”
“Yeah, sure. Of course.” I slipped my hand out of his grasp. “Totally. Just let me grab the kids and we’ll head outside. Let me know when you’re ready.”
I left him standing there, a powerful, strong man—a prince of the magical world—in my tiny, run-down kitchen, nearly brought to his knees by the passing of his mother. The image crawled into my heart and settled, bringing tears to my eyes. He did share some of his father’s traits— he was possessive, demanding, and downright terrifying. But he also had so much of his mother, like compassion, morality, and a beautiful soul.
Unlike his father, he didn’t love himself above all others. If I’d ever doubted, I now saw the proof before my eyes. He would sacrifice his wellbeing to bring peace to his mother. He would let go of the hope of his own throne to make sure she found her permanent resting place.
He would go to war with a more powerful foe to bring her justice.
I wiped a tear off of my cheek and went to grab the kids.
Kieran sat down at the table slowly, pain throbbing through his middle. The front door closed with a soft click, Alexis and her wards leaving him alone. The trunk sat in front of him, magically treated to stay in the water forever.
“I miss you. Every day,” he said, speaking to his mother like he had those long months after she’d slipped into a coma. “I miss the good times we had together, when you took me horseback riding or fishing. When we read together or made up stories. I remember when you watched me learn my place in the waters of the lake, then the ocean. I didn’t know then how much that must’ve killed you, land-trapped as you were. I didn’t know, because you sacrificed your happiness for me. You hid your pain so that I could live free. You hid the itch, your longing for the ocean, so that I could experience it fully. For that…” He took a deep breath, emotion choking him. “For that, I owe you everything. I’d be nothing without your guidance. I’d be an empty, power-hungry shell, like my father. By sacrificing yourself, you saved me.”
He wiped away a stray tear and curled his fists, trying to regain control of his emotions.
“I never would’ve found your skin without her. Without Alexis. She’s a hero. More than a hero…” He bowed his head and re-clasped his hands. “She’s putting herself at risk for me. To free you. She’s putting you, a complete stranger, before her own safety. She’s the best sort of a person. One who sacrifices herself, like you always did.” He shook his head. “She’s dealt with me—with my…manipulation and manhandling, with my mood swings and prodding into her life—she’s dealt with it like a warrior. No fear. No apologies. I’ve never known anyone like her. I’m glad you got to meet her, even if it was like this.”
He put his hand on the trunk, the grief so fresh he could barely breathe. It felt like he’d just lost her all over again. But this time, he was sure he’d be saying goodbye forever. That she’d finally, after all this time, find peace.
“I’m at a crossroads, mother. I’d planned on staying distant from everyone while I carried out my vengeance, but I’m…” He took another deep breath. He hadn’t admitted this to anyone. “I’m falling for her. I think it comes from a good place, but that’s tarnished by the danger I’ve put her in, isn’t it? Dad knows I’m spending a lot of time in the dual-society zone—he talked to me about it earlier. For now, he’s content with my explanation about organizing the magical fair here, but soon he’ll want more thorough answers. And when he does, he’ll discover Alexis. It won’t be hard—she illuminates the world like the noon sun. He’ll discover her magic, and if I’m not strong enough to stop him, he’ll turn her into her worst nightmare. He’ll use her, body and soul.” He gritted his teeth, rage flaring within him, and ran his fingers through his drying hair. “Not to mention that I’m already possessive like he is. I would lose my mind if another man touched her. I don’t know if I could stop myself from killing him. And I can’t help but wonder… If she left, like you tried to do, would I do what Dad did? Would my pain morph into the desire to control her? To punish her?”
He pushed off of the table and stood in a rush.
“I don’t know what to do. I’d intended to push her away when this was all done, for her own safety, but now…”
He paused, and in that moment, a soft breath drifted across the table to him. Words barely heard. His mother’s soft voice.
“Let her go…”
Frank’s voice reached around the side of the house, so much more annoying when it wasn’t muffled through a door. “It’s Donovan with dinner. What is this situation with the weather? I can barely see out here.”
I relayed the message to Daisy, who bounded up out of the weeds and jogged around to the front of the house.
“I better go…” Mordecai was bounding after her a moment later, two savages.
I stared out at the swirling mists, barely able to see the neighbor’s house looming beyond the fence. Kieran had been in there for about fifteen minutes, and part of me dreaded what would come next. Breaking that trap and setting his mom free was a surefire way to get Valens riled up.
Then again, her trunk had been moved. That would probably be enough.
“Looks like burgers,” Frank called out. “I do miss the taste of burgers.”
I rolled my eyes, then jumped as Lyra drifted around the corner of the house. She was actually going through the motions of walking, but it still looked like she was drifting. I was ninety-five percent sure she’d walked like this in real life.
“You must do as he says.” Her voice was sad but firm. My back straightened in defiance. I really did hate being told what to do. “You must follow his guidance. It’s for the best.”
“Hmm.” I sucked in my lips, still not comfortable arguing with this lady. “Mhm.”
“I thank you, for all you have done.” She stood beside me, and I got the feeling she didn’t want to sit down because she’d dirty her dress. Or maybe sitting in weeds wasn’t her forte. “You have shown him there is a place in the world for compassion. You have reinforced that there are good people, and if he tries, he can be one of them.”
I pulled up my knees and draped my arms around them. I didn’t know what to say.
“But respect his wishes, and do as he says,” she continued, taking a step back. “It is for the best. For both of you.”
Something uncomfortable lodged in my middle. “Why? What is he going to—”
But then she was gone, blinked away into the fog.
“We can go in.” Daisy’s head appeared around the corner. “Donovan brought a feast. Thank god. I am so hungry I could eat a whole cow. Come on.”
Kieran stood at the kitchen sink, looking out the window at gray nothingness. Donovan was unpacking the bags of groceries he’d set down beside him.
“Everything…good?” I asked.
Kieran glanced back at me, a strange look in his eyes. He nodded and turned. “Yes. Do you need help to break the spirit trap? Should I bring in Bria?”
I squinted at him, because he sounded brusque and authoritative (in other words, normal), but his mother’s words were rattling around in my head.
“No, I can do it myself. I don’t need help.”
“Are you able to put the trap back on?”
I hesitated suspiciously. Was this what his mother had been referring to?
“So I can put the trunk back and hope it fools my father until we find the culprit,” he continued.
I had intended to think through his mother’s request, and the possible implications, but his words stole my focus. Could I do something like that? I could banish spirits beyond the line, or pull them back from it, but could I devise something to keep them here?
“I…don’t know,” I said, examining the trunk.
I heard Frank shout, “It’s that grim-faced one. He’s got more bags.”
“You’ve got more coming?” I asked.
Donovan glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah. Why?” His gaze hit the table. “Oh. We can figure out a place to sit, don’t worry.”
A knock sounded at the door.
“Another one!” Frank shouted. “They’re really starting to pile up, now. This one is in a van. What are you doing in there? Are you having a party? Why wasn’t I invited? Your mother always invited me to parties. Oh, the times we had. Why, one time, in the full moon, we decided we’d—”
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