Shouts echoed through the meeting room as the houses pointed blame at one another, chaos and anger and grief surrounding each person in the room. We all knew we weren't safe. Every house Elder was present, but my father was nowhere to be seen. Cage took his place as council for the Guardians. I couldn't tell if his absence was because he was helping the other Pack members settle into the houses in Spiris or if he felt guilty for refusing the training I had suggested earlier. Cage's presence in his absence told me the later was probably the case.
"Everyone, calm down!" I yelled, smacking my hands on the table to demand attention in the room. "This isn't helping anyone!"
"Our Queen is dead!" Merith thundered, flames licking his fingertips as he glared at me. "You opened your blasphemes mouth and now she is dead!"
"Merith!" Faelyn gasped, placing a hand on her husband's chest. I could understand his anger, his grief.
"It's okay, Faelyn. He has the right to be upset." I said gently, noting the calm reaction that had flowed over the room. I glanced at Paeris, but he simply shrugged as if to say it wasn't him influencing everyone. "Meara may be gone, and I know I am not her, but I am here. And we will get through this."
"How do you plan to do that, exactly? It was your mother that killed her, I know it!" Merith exclaimed, though his tone was more hurt than angry. I growled softly at his words.
"My mother is in Spiris right now, preparing to go to war! Lorelei is not my mother!" I exploded, a rumble quaking the room around me as I felt my anger rise. "I understand how horrible this is! But I'm not the enemy."
Silence filled the room as each of the Elders nodded in understanding. Everyone but Merith.
"I say we listen to what her plan was in the first place." Cage spoke up, nodding at me in a way that only he could. "The Guardians stand behind you, Ray. We always have and always will."
Warmth enveloped me, but in a new way. Understanding and appreciation oozed through each of my pores for him.
"Cruor as well. Our House will stand with you." Paeris added, placing his hand on his father's shoulder as if they had already spoken of this before we all met.
"Anyone else?" I asked, looking at each Elder in turn, my eyes landing in Keya toward the back of the crowd. She looked uncomfortable, though kind despite it all.
"Spiris is with you." She said softly, placing a hand on Paeris' shoulder as a sign of unity. The words hit me in a new way. Even though she had seemed to fear me in the field, we had grown to be friends and it helped to know stood behind me.
"We will need all of us, if we want to win this war against Lorelei." Merith said firmly, nodding at my supporters. "The Houses stand united with you, your Highness."
"Good. Then we need a plan."
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I sat at the end of my bed, holding the outfit Laurel had helped me choose for the battle. She had told me it should be feminine enough to still be obvious that I was royalty, but also functional enough to fight in and not be restricted. I couldn't imagine this possibly being the last outfit I would wear. I hoped this wasn't a suicide mission.
I frowned as I heard my door open, Paeris standing in the doorway looking at me with a look of concern. I avoided his gaze and flopped back on the bed behind me.
"What do you want? If someone sees you here, it may cause a scandal."
He frowned, inviting himself further into the room as he closed the door behind him.
"Ray, you know I didn't mean that. I know how we were raised to think, and I love that you think differently." He said slowly, almost as if he were afraid to speak to me. "I should have known that it doesn't bother you to be seen with me. I'm sorry."
I sighed, my heart hurting. I knew I forgave him for the way the party had gone. Even when I had ran back to my room and cried into my pillow, I couldn't actually be angry with him. I knew my avoidance tactics were more out of hurt pride than betrayal.
"Apology accepted." The bed creaked as I sat up to look at him. "And for the record, I have never been worried about being seen with you."
Paeris smiled, taking a few steps toward me. "I thought by the way you told everyone we came across that we were friends, you were trying to give us distance. You are beautiful, thoughtful, and ridiculously talented fighter. I knew you were special since the day I met you."
"Sweet talker," I scoffed. "You didn't know anything about me the first time we met. I thought you were a dream."
"I knew you were strong and brave," he said. "I just hoped you would let me learn everything else about you."
I knew the look on his face. My cheeks heated as he looked me over.
"That this is the most ridiculous declaration of affection I've ever heard, and I have heard some crazy things in my life." I sighed. "Paeris, I saw you and Allie in the woods."
He looked stricken, but simply shook his head as if he knew there was no way to deny it. "When I saw the way Cage looked at you... Ray, you have to admit it is hard. Allie felt alone and I felt like I had lost you."
"So you decided to get lost in her vagina instead?"
Paeris sputtered, his eyes widening at my words. "We kissed. Once. But that was it. And it felt wrong." He moved closer to me, his fingertips brushing over the collar of my dress. "There has never been anything between us. I know you and Cage are Mated. Allie knows it too."
This was surprising to me. Sure, I subconsciously knew it from the way we were acting at the party, but I didn't believe it was possible to be Mated to a wolf and still be next in line for the throne.
I still betrayed and absolutely confused, but my body wasn't smart enough to know it. I had liked the feel of his hands, wanted more of it. My body had been begging for release since the night of the party but I had made sure to stay far away from both of the men in my life. It was almost like there were two of me, one who felt entirely primal and full of love every time I was near Cage and one who would have loved to see him dead just for the convenience of it all. I hated feeling this way, feeling as if I were two people in one body.
"Just know that whatever happens tomorrow, I will protect you." Paeris said softly, kissing my lips. "Can I stay with you tonight? It may be the last time we get to enjoy each other's company."
I smirked and kissed him again, more than happy to spend the night lost in his touch.