Chapter 15: Phoenix
Part of me was itching to leave, but the other part was urging me to hear what they were talking about. It had to be important for the representatives from such vital regions to be here. Spotting a partially ajar window, I tiptoed my way over and molded myself against the wall. The murmurs were soft, so I concentrated.
“He won’t take well to this; none of them will.”
“After the attacks of his own people, he didn’t rise to the occasion.” I recognized the snide belonging to Xander. “They won’t support a king that willingly sacrificed them every full moon. Now if you would excuse me, gentlemen.”
I heard the back slider creak open, and dashed back to the tree line. I watched Xander stroll out over to the dock at the edge of the lake. Going to turn to head back towards the palace, my thoughts were disrupted by the sound of his voice.
“You aren’t a very good spy, you know.”
I frowned, realizing that I had been made. I shot one last daring glance towards the mansion before starting tentatively over towards the lake.
Everything seemed duller today. The leaves were less saturated, and the air didn’t smell as sweet. His back remained to me, and I was grateful for it as I wasn’t particularly fond of seeing his face right now.
“I’m aware,” I gritted.
He finally turned, and I was alarmed by how well rested he look. After the betrayal he had pulled only hours earlier, he looked younger by 10 years, as if he hadn’t missed a wink since the day he’d been born.
“None of them know, it was just me.”
“How did you know?”
“Your scent,” he replied simply. “I’m the only one that recognizes it.”
“What was with that stunt back there?”
His eyes grazed up and down my body, and then he pushed forward until he was at the end of the dock. I watched him crouch down as he dangled his legs over the edge, and he craned his neck to look back at me, patting the plank beside him. I took the offer, sitting beside him as my leg brushed against his.
“In the beginning of my sentence, I had a visit from Adonis. When I was first exiled, I shacked up with him for a little while up north. He watched me build my empire firsthand. There were speculations after the fiasco that was your wedding,” he began to explain.
“The fiasco that was your fault,” I piped up.
He shot me a look, and continued on.
“They were organizing this without me at first,” he gestured back towards the mansion. “They insisted that for the stability of our people, it would make the most sense for a member of the Royal Family to take Damien’s place.”
“Are they going to kill him?” The question was hollow.
“They wanted to,” he began. “I convinced them to lock him up for the rest of his life.”
“And me?” I started toying with my hair, nearly hearing my own heartbeat quicken. I knew that he could sense it too, because he took my hand in his and interlocked our fingers. When he didn’t answer, I pulled my hand away.
“When my banishment is raised, since I no longer carry the burden of a mate, I’m allowed to choose someone to rule at my side. The only way that the Averell line can be secured is if I have an heir to the throne. That way, it removes my brother entirely and secures stability.”
“So Damien and I get buried alive, and you rule with a pretty blonde by your side,” I concluded with a fake smile.
“What are you talking about?” he frowned at my accusation.
I turned my attention to him fully, eyeing him up.
“You’re taking Ella, right? She’s the obvious choice.”
He laughed out loud, and I realized that I had forgotten he had dimples. For the first time in a while, he looked genuinely amused.
“Me, with her?” The cackling continued. I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Are you done yet?” I rolled my eyes.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh,” he half-assured, resting his arm back on my leg again. “I’m just trying to say that I’ve burned through two mates in two years, and I don’t think I’ll be settling for a loveless marriage any time soon. I wanted to announce that it would be you,” he added hesitantly.
“I can’t—” I started.
“The marriage was never consecrated, and he never marked you. In my world, you’re as good as unmarried. That gives you options.”
He was trying to sense my emotions towards this proposition but I did my best to remain unfazed by it.
“How much will the people trust a Queen who abandons her own King just to save her own skin?”
“All they’d have to do is meet you, and they’d trust you,” he said, smiling.
I had never seen anything so genuine in all my life.
“So what, I let you mark me or whatever and I’m the trophy wife until you have an heir? Damien will spend the rest of his days plotting to kill us,” I frowned.
“Damien won’t be able to touch you, I promise,” he assured. “That was part of the condition to the arrangement in the first place. I don’t want you to think that I’m like him, Cy. If you agree to be with me, it will be the human way.”
My eyes lit up at the sound of this. Damien had made floundering attempts at doing things the human way before, but I always knew down the line that marking and all the other nonsense was inevitable.
“The human way?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Good old-fashioned swooning, which I won’t have trouble doing,” he shrugged.
“So you really left, just to save my life?”
“I was a dead man in that palace. I have nothing to lose. I’m not asking you to make a decision today, I know that this is a big decision to make. Sleep on it; we storm the palace tomorrow morning. I’ll know your answer by the way you look at me,” he pressed a kiss to my temple, rising to his feet. “I should be getting back to them.”
“How will you know from the way I look at you?”
I raced to turn around as he started to walk away, and he paused as he turned halfway to me.
“You’ve been an open book since the day we met.”