Chapter no 73

Empire of Storms

Chaol did not think.

He did not marvel at the sensation of being so high. At the weight of his body, the sway of it as he took that staggering step.

There was only Yrene, and her hand on the doorknob, and the tears in her furious, lovely eyes. The most beautiful he’d ever seen.

They widened as he took that step toward her.

As he lurched and swayed. But he managed another.

Yrene stumbled toward him, studying him from head to toe, a hand rising to cover her open mouth. She stopped a few feet away.

He hadn’t realized how much smaller she was. How delicate. How—how the world looked and seemed and tasted this way. “Don’t go,” he breathed. “I’m sorry.”

Yrene surveyed him again, from his feet to his face. Tears slipped down her cheeks as she tipped her head back.

“I’m sorry,” Chaol said again.

Still she did not speak. Tears only rolled and rolled.

“I meant none of it,” he rasped, his knees beginning to ache and buckle, his thighs trembling. “I was spoiling for a fight and—I meant none of it, Yrene. None of it. And I’m sorry.”

“A kernel of it must have been in you, though,” she whispered.

Chaol shook his head, the motion making him sway. He gripped the back of a stuffed armchair to stay upright. “I meant it about myself. What you have done, Yrene, what you are willing to still do … You did this—all this not for glory or ambition, but because you believe it is the right thing to do. Your bravery, your cleverness, your unfaltering will … I do not have words for it, Yrene.”

Her face did not change. “Please, Yrene.”

He reached for her, risking a staggering, wobbling step. She took a step back.

Chaol’s hands curled around empty air.

He clenched his jaw as he fought to remain upright, his body swaying and strange.

“Perhaps it makes you feel better about yourself to associate with meek, pathetic little people like me.”

“I do not …” He ground his teeth, and lurched another step toward her, needing to just touch her, to take her hand and squeeze it, to just show her he wasn’t like that. Didn’t think like that. He swayed left, throwing out a hand to balance him as he bit out, “You know I didn’t mean it.”

Yrene backed away, keeping out of reach. “Do I?” He pushed forward another step. Another.

She dodged him each time.

“You know it, damn you,” he growled. He forced his legs into another jerking step.

Yrene sidled out of the way. He blinked, pausing.

Reading the light in her eyes. The tone.

The witch was tricking him into walking. Coaxing him to move. To follow.

She paused, meeting his stare, not a trace of that hurt in them, as if to say, It took you long enough to figure it out. A little smile bloomed on her mouth.

He was standing. He was … walking. Walking. And this woman before him … Chaol made it another step.

Yrene retreated.

Not a hunt, but a dance.

He did not remove his eyes from hers as he staggered another step, and another, his body aching, trembling. But he gritted through it. Fought for each inch toward her. Each step that had her backing up to the wall.

Her breath came in shallow pants, those golden eyes so wide as he tracked her across the room. As she led him one foot after another.

Until her back hit the wall, the sconce on it rattling. As if she’d lost track of where she was.

Chaol was instantly upon her.

He braced one hand upon the wall, the wallpaper smooth beneath his palm as he put his weight upon it. To keep his body upright as his thighs shook, back straining.

They were smaller, secondary concerns. His other hand …

Yrene’s eyes were still bright with those tears he’d caused. One still clung to her cheek.

Chaol wiped it away. Another one he found down by her jaw.

He didn’t understand—how she could be so delicate, so small, when she had overturned his life entirely. Worked miracles with those hands and that soul, this woman who had crossed mountains and seas.

She was trembling. Not with fear, not as she looked up at him.

And it was only when Yrene settled her hand on his chest, not to push him away but to feel the raging, thunderous heartbeat beneath, that Chaol lowered his head and kissed her.



He was standing. He was walking.

And he was kissing her.

Yrene could barely breathe, barely keep inside her skin, as Chaol’s mouth settled over hers.

It was like waking up or being born or falling out of the sky. It was an answer and a song, and she could not think or feel fast enough.

Her hands curled into his shirt, fingers wrapping around fistfuls of fabric, tugging him closer.

His lips caressed hers in patient, unhurried movements, as if tracing the feel of her. And when his teeth grazed her lower lip … She opened her mouth to him.

He swept in, pressing her farther into the wall. She barely felt the molding digging into her spine, the sleekness of the wallpaper against her back as his tongue slid into her mouth.

Yrene moaned, not caring who heard, who might be listening. They could all go to hell for all she cared. She was burning, glowing—

Chaol laid a hand against her jaw, angling her face to better claim her mouth. She arched, silently begging him to take

She knew he hadn’t meant what he said, knew it had been himself he’d been raging at. She’d goaded him into that fight, and even if it had hurt … She’d known the moment he stood, when her heart had stopped dead, that he hadn’t meant it.

That he would have crawled.

This man, this noble and selfless and remarkable man …

Yrene dragged her hands around his shoulders, fingers slipping into his silken brown hair. More, more, more

But his kiss was thorough. As if he wanted to learn every taste, every angle of her.

She brushed her tongue against his, and his growl had her toes curling in her slippers—

She felt the tremor go through him before she registered what it was. The strain.

Still he kissed her, seemed intent to do so, even if it brought him crashing to the floor.

Small steps. Small measures.

Yrene broke away, putting a hand on his chest when he made to claim her mouth again. “You should sit.”

His eyes were wholly black. “I—let me—please, Yrene.”

Each word was a broken rasp. As if he’d freed some tether on himself.

She fought to keep her breathing steady. To gather her wits. Too long on his feet and he might strain his back. And before she could encourage the walking and—more, she needed to go into his wound to look around. Perhaps it had receded enough on its own.

Chaol brushed his mouth against hers, the silken heat of his lips enough to make her willing to ignore common sense.

But she shoved back against it. Gently slid out of his reach. “Now I’ll have ways to reward you,” she said, trying for humor.

He didn’t smile back. Didn’t do anything but watch her with near-predatory intent as she backed away a step and offered her arm to him. To walk back to the chair.

To walk.

He was walking

He did so. Pushed off the wall, and swayed— Yrene caught him, steadied him.

“I thought you never stepped in to help me,” he said drily, raising a brow.

“In the chair, yes. You have much farther to fall now.”

Chaol huffed a laugh, then leaned in to whisper in her ear, “Will it be the bed or the couch now, Yrene?”

She swallowed, daring a sidelong look up at him. His eyes were still dark, his face flushed and lips swollen. From her.

Yrene’s blood heated, her core near-molten. How the hell would she have him nearly naked before her now?

“You are still my patient,” she managed to say primly, and guided him into his chair. Nearly shoved him onto it—and nearly leaped atop him, too. “And while there is no official vow about such things, I plan to keep things professional.”

Chaol’s answering smile was anything but. So was the way he growled, “Come here.”

Yrene’s heartbeat pounded through every inch of her as she closed the foot of space between them. As she held his burning gaze and settled into his lap.

His hand slid beneath her hair to cup the back of her neck, drawing her face to his as he brushed a kiss over the corner of her mouth. Then the other. She gripped his shoulder, fingers digging into the hard muscle beneath, her breathing turning jagged as he nipped at her bottom lip, as his other hand began to explore up her torso—

A door opened in the hallway, and Yrene was instantly up, striding across the sitting room for the desk—to the vials of oil there. Just as Kadja slipped through the door, a tray in her hands.

The servant girl had found the “ingredients” Yrene needed. Twine, goat’s milk, and vinegar.

Yrene could barely remember words to thank the servant as the girl set the tray on the desk.

Whether Kadja saw their faces, their hair and clothes, and could read the white-hot line of tension between them, she said nothing. Yrene had no doubt she might suspect, would no doubt report it to whoever held her leash, but … Yrene found herself not caring as she leaned against the desk, Kadja departing as silently as she had come.

Found Chaol still watching her, chest heaving. “What do we do now?” Yrene asked quietly.

For she didn’t know—how to go back

Chaol didn’t reply. He just stretched out one leg wholly in front of him.

Then the other. Did it again, marveling.

“We don’t look back,” he said, meeting her stare. “It helps no one and nothing to look back.” The way he said it … It seemed as if it meant something more. To him, at least.

But Chaol’s smile grew, his eyes lighting as he added, “We can only go on.”

Yrene went to him, unable to stop herself, as if that smile were a beacon in the dark.

And when Chaol wheeled himself to the couch and peeled off his shirt, when he lay down and she set her hands on his warm, strong back … Yrene smiled as well.

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