The Crown that Was Never Meant to Be

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Chapter One

Angelica held Damon's hands as Ember stitched up the wound in his side.

Evelynn had spotted them first. Her eyes had lit up with excitement, and she'd run off before Angelica could yell for her to fetch Ember. So she'd instead turned to shouting the man's name. It had taken but a moment for the man to appear, annoyance in his eyes.

Annoyance that shifted to panic the moment he laid eyes of Damon and the bloody cloth he held to his stomach. After Angelica had ordered the wrong winged to stay put, Ember had rushed the two into his home. He'd led them to a white room with a soft white bed, forced Damon to lay down, and began to examine the wound.

Apparently, the wound refused to heal because Damon was fighting an infection and a fever that wouldn't show because his ice magic already kept him cool enough that none of them could pick up on.

Damon had known that he was sick, but he'd refused to tell Angelica.

She'd have been mad about it if Damon hadn't been in so much pain.

Ember had cleaned the wound, which just made the pain worse for Damon, and Angelica had taken her mate's hands, if only to offer him some form of comfort. After the wound had been cleaned, Ember had pulled out a needle and some stitching thread, and Damon had groaned.

"Must you?"

"Do you want to get worse?"

So Damon had let the man stitch him up.

And that's where they were now.

Damon struggled not to yelp, not to flinch against the pain, gripping Angelica's hands to the point that she was holding back barks of pain.

"You know, if you'd have kept this wound clean, I wouldn't have to do this," Ember growled.

"And what the hell did you expect me to clean it with?" Damon snapped back, then cut off with a pained yelp as the needle pricked his skin.

He ground his teeth together, gripping his mate's hand as Ember made stitch after stitch after stitch until Ember tied off the end and backed away.

"Do not tear those," Ember almost growled.

"And how am I going to tear these?" Damon questioned, growling right back.

Ember shifted his gaze to Angelica.

For a minute, Damon didn't get it. Then his cheeks flushed, and he mumbled, "She wants to wait."

Ember nodded, and said, "Then just don't try exercising any time soon."

Angelica blinked. "What did he mean?"

"Don't worry about it," Damon replied, giving her hand a gentle squeeze, "I love you, Angel."

It was stupid, but it was an effective distraction. She leaned in, pecked his lips, and murmured, "You get better for me, okay?"

"Of course, Angel," he promised, leaning in to again kiss her.

Ember let out a pointed cough.

"Hate to interrupt," Ember said, "But, just so you know, you're staying in that bed until I can take those stitches out."

Damon froze. Slowly, he backed away from his mate and spat the word, "What?"

"I'm not having you tear them, and I don't trust you not to try and go running or fighting or something," Ember replied, "So you're staying here, and you're waiting for those stitches."

Damon gritted his teeth, but spat, "Fine."

Ember then turned to Angelica. "And you."

She paused, nervousness building in her chest. "Me?"

"I need to have a word with you," Ember said.

She and Damon exchanged a glance. Opening her mouth to question him, Ember cut her off with a growl.

"In private, preferably."

"Absolutely not," Damon snarled.

Ember's lips twitched back from his teeth in the beginnings of a snarl. Angelica, wisely, cut it. She gave her mate a quick kiss on the forehead, mumbled, "I'll be right back. You get some rest," and she rose from her seat. Panic filled his eyes, but calmed when she gave him a smile, following Ember out.

He didn't take her far. Just down the hall and into what appeared to be his living room.

"What is this about?" Angelica asked, relieved at the fact that Ember left his door wide open.

"What in all of hell possessed you to bring ten more runaways into this town?" Ember questioned, whirling on her.

"Eleven, technically. Domino's pregnant," Angelica said.

"And that makes it any better?" Ember questioned, "Are you trying to put her and her unborn child in danger? Are you trying to put this entire town in danger?"

"You already knew about me bringing Nyx," Angelica said.

"Yes, but I didn't agree to ten more!" Ember snapped.

"I wasn't just going to leave them in that prison to rot," Angelica protested.

"You didn't have to bring them here, putting us and them in danger."

"Where was I going to bring them?" Angelica questioned.

"Not to a town of less than one hundred people that could easily be slaughtered by a single legion of Demons!" Ember snapped, "What the hell were you thinking?"

"I-I, well-,"

"You what?" Ember snapped.

"I thought this place would be defensible," she replied, "I didn't know where else to go."

Ember opened his mouth to again snap at Angelica, but snapped it closed. He took in a breath, then another, and said, "What do you expect us to do with them, especially since I don't doubt that the Demons are on our tails?"

"I was hoping you could help provide them a place to stay while I worked out what to do," Angelica said, "I don't want to put this place in danger, and I'm going to protect this town the best I can. And besides, even if I didn't come here, the Demons thought I would, so you'd be attacked anyway. At least now I can offer you at least some amount of help."

Ember took a moment just to let what she'd said sink in. Then he said, "I sure as hell hope you have a plan."

Angelica opened her mouth to reply, but cut off at the sound of a floorboard creaking.

At first, she thought it to be Damon. When she turned, however, she saw-

Jewel.

She saw Jewel, with her arms wrapped tightly around herself, her head bowed, and her shoulders trembling.

Ember stiffened, taking in a sharp, shocked breath.

Angelica didn't question why. Ember was a healer. Jewel was a living corpse. Seeing Jewel, or anyone, in such a state probably hurt him physically.

"Jewel?" Angelica asked, her voice ever so gentle.

She halted beneath the doorframe and did not look up.

"I asked you to stay with the others. Did something happen?" Angelica asked.

Her brows drew together in concern. Jewel was fragile, both mentally and physically, the slightest thing capable of sending her into a panic attack. She did not want her cousin feeling as hopeless and helpless here as she had back at that prison.

"No," Jewel eventually whispered, swallowing nervously.

She fidgeted, her trembling increasing.

"They wouldn't stop staring," Jewel whispered, "Especially the younger ones. Their parents told them to stop, but-I- It was just really uncomfortable, and-and-so I thought I'd follow you."

Again, she swallowed nervously, lifting her one good, tear-filled eye to meet Angelica's gaze. "I-I'm not in trouble, am I?"

"N-,"

Ember cut Angelica off before she could even finish a word. Moving toward Jewel, his voice gentle, his movements as non-threatening as he could make them, he spoke.

"No. No of course not. There is no reason to get in trouble for leaving an uncomfortable situation," Ember promised.

It did nothing to comfort Jewel. She bit down her sob. Or, at least, she tried to. Needless to say, it failed. Terribly.

Her tears fell, and she flopped her head into her hands, palms pressing into her eyes in an effort to stop the tears. Ember quickly closed the distance between them, his hands reaching for her cheeks. Nudging her hands away from her face, he slipped a finger under her chin, lifting her head.

Cupping her cheeks, he murmured, "Hey. It's okay. You're going to be alright."

With a sob, she flung herself into his arms, burying her face in his chest. Clinging to him, she wrapped him up in a tight embrace. His chin settled on the top of her head, closing his arms around her. One hand buried in her hair, the other rubbing her back, he held her.

"Angelica," Ember called.

She nodded, waiting.

"They can stay, as long as you get Cazriel's approval," Ember said, "And this one stays with me."

With a smile, Angelica dipped her head in thanks. Turning, she left to return to her mate, leaving Ember and Jewel alone.
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