Chapter no 13

A Dawn of Onyx

I thwacked at the tree with all my might but barely made a dent in the bark. Even when I imagined it was Kane’s arrogant face, or someone named Amelia, my slashes were mere scratches against the wood. After all the mornings I had spent with steel in my hands, I still felt like my strength had

not improved at all.

I wiped the sweat from my eyes and peered up at Dagan.

“This isn’t training. This is free labor. If you need more firewood, I bet Owen would be happy to oblige.”

Dagan loosed a chuckle, the novelty of which still hadn’t faded. Nothing seemed to bring the curmudgeon as much joy as these morning lessons. I couldn’t tell if he was secretly endeared by my learning, or just a sadist. Probably both.

“Give me four more blows and we’ll call it a day.”

I rolled my shoulders back and took the axe to the tree four more times, leaving a shallow gash in the wood.

“There you go,” he praised. “That’s something. We’ll get it down one day.”

“I still don’t understand what this has to do with sword fighting.”

Dagan offered me his sword in return for the axe I was holding. I made the trade and instantly felt my arm pull toward the ground.

“Dagan!” I gasped. “What is your sword made of? Bricks?” I couldn’t hold it even with two hands, let alone wield it expertly with one.

“The sword you’ve been training with is for a child. Five or six years old at best.” My jaw practically unhinged. “You need to grow stronger so that you can use a proper one soon.”

I respected his dedication to my self-defense, but the urgency was unsettling. Did he think I’d be in peril again so soon?

Despite the shudder that ran through me, I was grateful for the reminder not to get too comfortable here—that Onyx was still dangerous.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to complain. I’m just a little tired.”

I had healed two injured soldiers late last night, who had returned from a mission with significant stab wounds, and it had taken nearly everything out of me.

I dropped his sword and leaned back against the marred tree. Dagan stared at me, sympathy and curiosity twisting in his expression.

“Do you get tired when you work in the apothecary?”

I knew confusion was written plainly across my face. “Sometimes the hours are long… why?”

“That’s not what I mean.” Dagan took his sword back, swiping the blade across his palm.

“Dagan! What—” I reached for the sword, but he swatted me away. “Here, heal this.”

I narrowed my eyes at him but followed his request. Taking his calloused hand in mine, I closed my eyes and felt the familiar tingle in my fingers.

“Now, I want you to try something new. Don’t pull power from within, but try to harness what’s around you instead.”

“What’s around me?” My eyes popped open and I scanned the area. “Like you? My sword?”

“Not exactly. Sometimes it’s water. Sometimes it’s earth. My guess for you is atmosphere. So try to pull the very air around you into my palm, if you can.”

“Dagan,” cautious hope bubbled in my chest. “Do you know what these powers are? I’ve wanted to understand my entire life. If you know something, you have to tell me.” I pleaded at him with my eyes.

Abbington hadn’t had libraries or scholars, so after exhausting all forms of research, I had given up on trying to understand this part of myself. I had even searched the Shadowhold library a few weeks ago to no avail. I had told myself it was better this way—that I preferred not to know.

But Dagan’s eyes only scanned the field around us. “This technique has helped others with their witchcraft. That’s all. I hoped it might be worth a shot.”

I knew he was keeping something from me. He wasn’t as bad of a liar as I was, but it was close. I knew witches never pulled their power from air or water or earth. Mari had made it very clear as she walked me through all of her research on her new skills, that a witch’s power came from her lineage.

However, when he didn’t say more, I caved and gave it a shot. No harm in trying, right? I imagined pulling the very air around me into his palm, sealing up the small river of blood that had spilled out. My fingers twitched and I watched in awe as his hand found its way back together again, without leaving me exhausted or dizzy.


Dagan’s lips pursed in a knowing smile. “Good. That may help, let me know.”

And then he walked back to the castle.


I was so sore, I could hardly walk back to my room afterward. I was going to draw myself a piping hot bath and fill it with salts from the apothecary to ease my aching muscles. Another facet of my strange powers was the ability to heal quickly. I was never sick for long, and my cuts became scars sometimes overnight. One long bath and I’d be good as new by tomorrow.

It was an oddly cloudy day despite the crawl toward summer, and my private washroom was dim and quiet. I lit two lanterns and a handful of candles to brighten the space and began boiling the water. The white porcelain of the clawfoot tub was cracked, and it had some rust here and there, but I had fallen a little in love with it. Back in Abbington, we had a communal bathhouse which was almost solely used by teenagers who wanted to screw away from the intrusive eyes of their parents.

I tried to remember the fleeting, foreboding feeling I had when training with Dagan today—a reminder not to let my guard down completely. But

my life here in Shadowhold was far more decent than I had ever imagined it could be. I had even caught myself forgetting about plotting or scheming a way to escape, enjoying Mari and Dagan’s company, even Barney when I saw him in the great hall.

I pushed back against the guilt that scratched at my heart. I was surviving.

That was all I could do. Guilt had also been swimming in my mind ever since we stole Briar’s amulet. I had hoped Kane wouldn’t notice, that he wouldn’t come after Mari for it.

A small part of me hoped he wouldn’t feel betrayed.

The irony was so ridiculous I nearly gave myself a headache.

Once the water was close to scalding, I poured it into the tub and peeled off my sweat-stained, dirt-ridden leathers. I dipped one blistered toe into the steaming water. There wasn’t a single part of me that wasn’t raw and achy from the morning’s exercises.

Dagan was definitely a sadist.

I added the salts and the clear water bloomed white and milky soft, smelling heavenly of eucalyptus and lilies. Lowering myself into the tub inch by inch, at least half the tension left my body like steam off a cup of tea in winter air. I submerged and lifted my feet out, resting them on the lip of the tub in a position fit for a queen.

I had been this sore after my footrace with Kane, too. It had been a while since I had exerted my muscles that much, but my aching legs had been far more welcome than whatever this full-body bruise from training was. Thinking of my day with Kane brought all kinds of conflicting feelings to mind. His infuriating arrogance. Our argument. His stance on love and trust. But also, his willingness to bring me along into the woods, just because I needed to get out. Our playful wager. Our swim.

That ride back to the castle…

The thought of him behind me, glistening as the sun went down, maybe even hardening at the sensation of my body in his arms… I didn’t want to feel anything for him, but I couldn’t help it. The memory brought back an intense ache in my core and my nipples pebbled even in the warm water.

Alone, in the privacy of the washroom, surrounded by the candles’ dim light, I allowed myself to slip a hand down my stomach and between my legs. It was an entirely different feeling thinking of Kane rather than Halden

—a want so pure and demanding, I couldn’t bear to leave it unanswered. I thought of Kane’s wicked grin, his deep and husky laugh, and the way he nearly pressed me up against the rocks in the pond.

I wondered what might have happened had I not been so focused on escape. What if I had taken the sheer camisole off altogether? Would he have been able to hold himself back? Or would he have ravaged me, consuming me completely until we were one?

I imagined his hands grasping at me, coaxing a moan from my lips, whispering in my ear what my most intimate sounds were doing to him. I rubbed circles between my legs, feeling the pressure build throughout my body, want pooling low in my belly.

I ached for him.

I wanted him to touch me so desperately it was all-consuming. I brought my other hand up to my breast and massaged it gently, thinking of his hands, their strength, and how his rough touch would feel. He was so dangerous, so lethal. It was shameful—mortifying—how much it had begun to turn me on.

As I pictured Kane, his name slipped out of my lips in a soft gasp. Even in the water, I felt wetness pooling at my center, and I pushed one finger in slowly. I moaned, eyes screwed shut in pleasure, as my release built. Withdrawing nearly to the tip, before plunging back in, I imagined it was Kane’s hand, using me, playing with me, wringing cries from my throat and tears of ecstasy from my eyes. Would he be rough? Jaw tight, hands punishing, demanding moan after moan, sob after sob… or would the wicked king be surprisingly gentle? Restraining himself, afraid to thrust too hard, shaking with the need to keep himself in control… My fantasies were unhinged. I was so close, I could almost feel his tongue on my neck, his grunts against me, the way—

I was shaken from my filthy imagination by the sound of heavy footsteps coming from my bedroom.

Fear cut through me.

I stood up, dousing the floor in water, prepared for whatever might come through the washroom doors. I looked around for some kind of weapon and grabbed the nearest candlestick.

“Arwen? Are you al—” Kane barged in, hand on his sheathed sword, but stopped short upon seeing my soaked, naked form. He made a guttural noise that sounded almost like a whimper and turned around quickly.

“Fuck,” his voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. “Sorry.”

I dropped down into the tub with an ungraceful splash to hide my body. “What are you doing in here? Don’t you knock?” I asked, but it came out like a shriek.

“I was coming to ask you a question and then I heard—I thought you were hurt,” he said to the wall, still facing away from me. “I—never mind.”

I squirmed. Still hot all over—from the steaming bath, from embarrassment, from… I shook the images of Kane’s lust-soaked eyes and parted, breathless lips from my mind.

“Well, I’m fine. And you can turn back around now.”

Kane slowly faced me. I had wrapped my arms around my chest, and the tub covered the rest of my body. The salts had made the water opaque, like a blanket of liquid white. Somehow, he looked almost as embarrassed as I felt.

A horrible thought entered my mind, and all others eddied out.

“What made you think I was hurt?” I tried not to sound hysterical.

“I thought I heard…” Now his cheeks were truly flushed. I couldn’t tell if it was from arousal or shame. Maybe both.

I recovered quickly. “Don’t be crude, Kane. I’m just sore, Dagan is teaching me to swordfight. Haven’t you ever had a sore muscle? Or were you born looking Stones-carved?”

Ugh. I was overdoing it.

He relaxed a bit and his wolfish grin returned. He leaned against the wall. “Someone’s spirited this morning.”

I shook my head and closed my eyes, laying back in the tub. I let the warm water rise up around my neck and calm me down before I looked at

him again.

“Smells nice.” He wandered closer but kept a respectful distance. I wasn’t sure if I appreciated that or hated it more than anything.

“The salts are scented with white lilies. They’re my favorite flower.”

He smiled a new smile, a relaxed and pleasant look I rarely saw on him. It took my breath away.

“Really? We don’t get many of those here in Onyx.”

“I know,” I said. “My mother told me they only bloom in Amber. That’s why it’s my middle name, she said I was born surrounded by them.”

“Arwen Lily Valondale,” he mused. My name on his lips was like a prayer, if a prayer could be sinfully torturous and sensual. It was nearly enough to make me whimper.

I cleared my throat.

“How do you know my surname?”

He clucked his tongue, shaking his head in playful reprimand, and my breasts tightened in response. Damn him. He shouldn’t do anything that makes me look at his mouth.

“You think I let prisoners roam free in my keep without doing my research?”

He sauntered closer and my lower stomach clenched. I was still so naked. He had to go.

“Last time I checked, the tub was a private space, not a common room.

Why were you in my quarters in the first place?”

Kane inched toward me further and knelt so as to not see inside the tub. When we were at eye level he said, “I wanted to ask…” he scratched at his jaw.

A terrible thought occurred to me, too late. Did he know it had been Mari and me in his study? Was that why he was here? Had he realized Briar’s amulet was missing? I tried to make my face appear indifferent.

He sighed. “If you might join me for something tomorrow night. I think it may help you understand this kingdom a bit more.”

Surprised was an understatement. I dipped a little lower in the tub to buy some time.

“Why should I?”

“Because I am telling you to?” I scowled.

He laughed a warm and genuine laugh like I was hilarious. “Yeah, I didn’t think that would mean much. How about, because it will ease your insatiable curiosity about me and this kingdom, and the war which you have so many opinions on.”

“Fine,” I nearly smiled. He had me there.

“Good,” he grinned. “I’ll have Barney bring you.”

I turned, reaching for my robes behind me when I heard his sharp inhale. I spun back to him and waited for whatever was on the tip of his tongue, but I already knew what was coming.

He looked stricken.

“You have scars.” He said it like he could break iron with his fists. Despite the hot water, a shiver ran across my back.

“Yes,” was all I could manage. That was not a part of my life I wanted to share with anyone, especially him.

“Who did that to you?” he said in a low tone I could barely hear. Images of Powell and his belt assaulted my mind’s eye.

I flushed. “It was a long time ago.”

As if he could see what the memories did to me, he didn’t push further, for which I was grateful. Instead, he swallowed and held my eyes.

When I didn’t look away, he leaned slightly closer, his expression one I couldn’t read. His jaw was still as hard as granite.

The space between us pulsed with slow, agonizing energy. My core still ached.

Our faces were far too close for how naked I was. And how near to coming I had been mere moments ago. I could smell his leathery, woodsy scent, and it was mind-altering.

I drew my tongue across my bottom lip and watched him follow the movement with something like a wince—as if the movement pained him. His eyes had gone fully black, all pupil. Not an ounce of the slate gray that usually stared back at me. They followed a line down the column of my

neck, to my collarbone, to where my breasts were pushed together underneath my folded arms. His lips parted slightly.

But he didn’t look lower, and I felt both relief and disappointment.

I angled my face up toward him. I wanted him to kiss me. I could admit it to myself—I wanted his lips on mine more than I wanted my next breath.

But his brows creased and he shook his head, cleared his throat, and stood up.

“I’m sorry,” he said, before walking out of the washroom without another word, and leaving me breathless.

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