Chapter no 55

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

My mouth opens. Then shuts. “You knew…that I knew?” “Of course I knew.” He arches a dark brow as if I’m the problem here. “I’ve just

been waiting for you to work up the courage, the trust, whatever you want to call it, to fucking ask me.”

My hands fist at my sides, and I shove my power back behind the Archives door and slam my shields up. Without a conduit, there’s every chance I’ll set the curtains on fire for the entirely wrong reason. “You let me stew in it for months?”

“You didn’t ask me!” He pushes off the wall but stops himself from taking more than a step. “I’ve been begging you for months to ask me what you want to know, to break down that last insurmountable wall you’re keeping between us, but you didn’t. Why?”

He has the nerve to put this on me?

“You’re the one who said you’d never be entirely truthful with me. How am I supposed to know what you will and will not answer? How am I supposed to know what there is to ask?”

“The second you have a question, you ask it. Seems pretty simple.”

“Simple? Brennan is alive. You made a deal with my mother for my life. She put those scars on your back. Tell me, Xaden, is it only the secrets about my family you want me to dig out of you? You holding anything about Mira?”

“Shit.” He shoves a hand through his hair. “I didn’t want you to know about the scars, that’s true, but I would have told you if you’d asked.”

“I asked last year,” I challenge, walking toward the windows to look out over the rebuilt city, my anger heating my blood…but not my skin yet, thank the gods.

“I’m sorry. I can’t change last year, and though you’ve said you understand why I kept you in the dark, I don’t think you’ve actually forgiven me.”

“I…” Have I? Wrapping my arms around myself, I watch a riot of ten fly overhead, my mind racing with the deal he made, with him knowing, him testing me with his ridiculous questions. And he still hasn’t told me everything about the scars on his back or what I suspect from the cave about Sgaeyl bonding him. How much more can there be?

“As for the scars, I said you didn’t want to know how I got them. You can’t honestly tell me that you’re happy knowing, are you?”

My stomach twists.

“Of course not!” I spin to face him. “She cut into you over and over!” I shake my head, truly unable to fathom her actions, let alone how he endured it.

“Yes.” He nods as if it’s just a fact, a piece of history. “And I didn’t offer the information because I knew you’d find some way to blame yourself just like you’ve assumed guilt for everything that’s gone wrong in the last few months.”

I stiffen. “I have not—”

“You have.” He walks forward, stopping at the edge of the bed. “And the scars on my back are not your fault. Yes, your life was the unnamed price for the marked ones entering the quadrant.” He shrugs. “Your mother called in her favor, and I gave it. Do you want me to apologize for a deal I made before I knew you? Before I loved you? A deal that kept us alive? Started the flow of weaponry to the fliers? Because I won’t. I’m not sorry.”

“I’m not mad about the deal.” How does he not understand? “I’m pissed that you kept it from me, that you insist on making me ask for things you

should openly share. How the hell am I in love with you when I feel like I barely know you sometimes?”

“Because I let you live long enough for us to fall in love,” he says. “Without that deal, gods know what I would have done in my need for revenge. Ask me why I don’t regret it. Ask me about the first time I saw you. Ask me about the moment I almost killed you despite the deal and decided not to. Ask me why. Ask me something! Fight back like you would have done last year before I broke your trust. Stop being so scared of the answers or waiting for me to give them to you. Demand the truth! I need you to love all of me—not just what you decide to see.”

“How are we still having the same fight five months later?” I shake my head. He can tell me or he can choose not to, but I’m done having to guess which questions to ask.

“Because it wasn’t just me who shattered your trust last year. Because you were too pissed about my refusal to answer the superficial questions about the revolution to ask the real ones about us. Because you didn’t have a chance to find your feet before you were tortured. Because I came for you, told you that I love you, and you decided you could admit to loving me, even be with me, but we skipped over the step where you admit to fully trusting me. Take your pick. It’s like we’re still on that parapet last year, but I’m not the one worried you’ll find something unlikable if you dig a little deeper. You are.”

“That’s bullshit.” I shake my head. “And how am I supposed to fully trust you when battle-axes are flying out of armoires left and right?”

He lifts his scarred brow. “I’m not sure I understand—”

“It was an analogy I used with Imogen. Never mind.” I wave him off. “About battle-axes in armoires?” His head tilts as he studies me.

I rub the center of my forehead. “I basically said that if a battle-ax came flying out of an armoire and almost killed you, you’d want to check out the armoire to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.”

“Hmm.” He glances out of the corner of his eye to where our uniforms hang side by side, and his brow furrows in thought. “I can work with this.”

“I’m sorry?”

“What’s in our armoire right now?” He crosses his arms over his chest.

My mouth opens, shuts, then opens again. “Uniforms. Boots. Flight leathers.”

“How many uniforms? Which pairs of boots?” Shadows curl along the floor, stretching from beneath our bed to the armoire doors. “Do you actually know what’s in there? Or do you just trust that I haven’t moved your belongings and everything’s where you left it?”

“It’s an analogy.” This is ridiculous. “And I open that armoire every single day. I know where things hang because I see them.”

“What about the blanket my mother made me that’s tucked back on the top shelf?” Two strands of shadow reach for handles and open the armoire doors.

“I didn’t go snooping.” I shake my head, my eyes narrowing at him. A corner of his mouth rises. “Because you trust me.”

“Analogy.” I enunciate every syllable.

“So ask the question, Violet,” he says softly, in that calm, controlled tone that makes me lift my chin. “Humor me.”

“Fine,” I grit out through my teeth. “Do you happen to have a battle—” Shadows surge from the armoire, and I catch the glint of metal a heartbeat before the bands of darkness hold a dagger to within inches of my chin.

I gasp, then lock every muscle. “What the fuck, Xaden?”

“Am I going to hurt you?” The carpet makes his bootsteps nearly silent as he crosses the room, giving me plenty of time to object or retreat, but I don’t.

“I’m going to hurt you if you don’t get that away from me.” I keep my eyes on him.

“Would I ever let this knife hurt you?” His boots touch the tips of mine, and he leans into my space.

“Of course not.”

The shadows slowly take the blade closer to Xaden’s throat, and I grab for the hilt, yanking it away and tossing it to the desk before he can accidentally nick himself.

His smile flashes, then fades. “Hey, Violence?”

“What?” I snap.

“There’s a knife in the armoire.” His hand slides to the nape of my neck, and he leans in, narrowing the world to just the two of us. “All you had to do was ask, and even if you weren’t aware it was coming, you know I’d never let it hurt you. I’m not the one you don’t trust.”

I scoff. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Love, you’re the smartest person I know. If you actually wanted the answers, you’d ask the right questions.” His voice softens as his thumb sweeps along my jawline. “You knew about the deal. Maybe the question you need to be asking is why you didn’t confront me about it.”

“Because I love you!” My voice breaks into a mortifying whisper that’s almost half as embarrassing as the thoughts I can’t keep from spinning in my brain. The thoughts that I’ve fought to hold at bay ever since my mother told me about the deal she made with him. Heat flushes my cheeks as he holds my stare, and frustration curls my hands into fists. “Because I want to think you kept me alive those first few months before Threshing because you were intrigued or impressed by me or attracted to me like I was to you, and not because you made a deal with my mother. Because it’s horrifying to think that the only reason you fell in love with me is because of her. Because maybe you’re right and I didn’t want that particular truth, since I know there’s a thin line between devotion and obsession, between cowardice and self-preservation, and I’m walking it when it comes to you. I love you so fucking much that I ignored every warning signal last year, and now half the time I don’t know what side of that line I’m standing on because I’m too busy looking at you to watch my own feet!”

“Because you don’t want yourself to know where your feet are,” he says softly.

My mouth snaps shut. How dare he. Someone pounds on the door.

“Fuck off!” Xaden yells over his shoulder, then sighs as if remembering the sound shield.

“Let’s put your theory to the test. You want me to demand the truth? To ask you something real?” I hold his gaze and steel my heart.

“Please, do,” he challenges.

“What’s your second signet?”

His eyes widen, and the blood drains from his face as his hand falls away. For the first time, I think I’ve actually managed to shock Xaden Riorson.

“I know you have one,” I whisper as the pounding continues. “You told me that Sgaeyl was bonded to your grandfather, which makes you a direct descendant. If a dragon bonds a family member, it can strengthen a signet, but a direct descendant will either produce a second signet…or madness, and you seem pretty sane to me.”

He inhales sharply and forces his features into a mask.

I shake my head and scoff. “So much for asking. I just can’t figure out why Sgaeyl was allowed to choose you, how she got away with it. How you both did.”

The pounding only increases. “We have an emergency out here!” Brennan?

Both of our heads turn toward the door, and Xaden quickly moves to open it. He listens to my brother’s hushed words, then looks over his shoulder at me. “A horde of wyvern has been spottled flying from Pavis toward the cliffs.”

Xaden says something else to Brennan, then turns to me again. “You ready to raise those wards? Or would you like to wait until they’re actually at the gates?”


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