Chapter no 19 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌GOLDEN ROSE

Nightbane (The Lightlark Saga Book 2)

Isla awoke on the floor, having fallen out of bed. Sunlight streamed through the gap in her curtains.

No. Another dream had turned into a memory. They were getting stronger. Longer.

They had dueled. The match they’d had during the Centennial hadn’t been their first. Grim’s skill hadn’t been nearly as impressive then. She’d been so pleased with herself, being able to best an ancient warrior. But no

. . . she knew now he had clearly been holding back. He’d wanted her to look strong in front of the others, so they would think twice about attacking her.

Her hands curled into fists as the realization settled into her mind. “The demon let me win.”

If Isla couldn’t stop the visions, she could at least replace them—make new memories to erase the past. Erase him.

Oro and Isla had just finished training. She had managed to roll a boulder across a field without touching it at all. The heavier the object, the more concentration it required. She’d rushed to move the rock, to finish the lesson early. Because afterward—

It was time to do something bold. Make clear exactly what she wanted.

She had just taken a shower. Her hair was still damp. She had summoned Oro to her room, and when she stepped out of the bathroom, he was waiting, freshly showered himself.

Isla might have laughed at the expression on Oro’s face if she wasn’t so nervous. She had never seen him go so still. She wasn’t sure he was even breathing.

His gaze was a brand as it traveled up her bare legs, to the red lace that left little to the imagination.

Oro rose from the seat he had been waiting on, his movements slow, like he was using every ounce of his well-practiced control. He walked one,

two, three steps, eyes never leaving hers, until he was before her. “Are you trying to torture me?” His voice was thick.

She repeated the same words as before. “Yes. Let me?”

He didn’t even smile at her attempt at humor. He just stared, then closed his eyes tightly. “Isla,” he said, her name a prayer.

She waited for him to sweep her off her feet, to crush her against the wall, to feel every part of him against every practically bare part of her.

But he did not move an inch.

Isla shook her head. “I don’t understand. I can feel it. You love me. Why—why won’t you touch me?” She had tried to touch him multiple times—had tried to kiss him, to get close to him, to make clear what she wanted. Every time, he had rejected her. The realization came at her like a sword hilt to the temple. “Are you—are you not attracted to me?”

He said nothing, and she suddenly felt ridiculous. Of course he could love her without wanting her in that way. Various shades of love existed. She was so stupid, so foolish for just assuming

“I’m sorry, I—”

Oro had her pressed against the wall before she could say another word. He was looming over her, eyes filled with a burning intensity that made heat pool everywhere. “Isla,” he said. “Attracted does not begin to describe what I feel for you.”

She swallowed, and his eyes went to her throat. He reached out a tentative hand and traced a line over her collarbone. Lower. Down her chest, across the mark where an arrow had pierced her heart.

“Every time I see you, I think the gods must play favorites. Every time you’re near me, I am overcome with the urge to bed you, to have you, again and again. I want to devour every inch of you, until you’re all I taste, until you are shaking with pleasure in my arms. That is what I want.”

Isla had never wanted a person more in her entire life. She pressed against him. “Then do it. All of it.”

She glanced down, and the evidence of his want was clear. It made her heart race to an impossible speed. With shaking hands, she unbuttoned the clasp of her top until it dropped. He looked at her like he wanted to spend a week with her, locked in this room.

But he only closed his eyes and said, “Isla. I want everything with you.

But not now.”

“Why not?” she asked, tears hot behind her eyes. She willed them not to fall, knowing she looked pathetic enough already.

His expression softened. “You’re struggling, love.” He took her hand. “I feel like I’m watching you fade, day by day, and I don’t know what to do.” He surprised her by going down on one knee, his gaze never leaving hers. The king of Lightlark was kneeling before her. “Tell me how to help you. I’ll do anything. Give you anything. Just tell me.”

The tears fell freely now. “I can’t,” she said.

He rose and cupped her face, smoothing her tears away with his thumbs. His palms were hot as coals, and she leaned into them. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. You are not alone. You do not face the world alone anymore.”

Isla closed her eyes. It was hard to swallow; it was like her throat was swollen and raw, trying to keep the words down.

This secret . . . It was too much to bear. The memories were trickling in against her will; she was defenseless against them. Isla had told Oro she trusted him. That was true, wasn’t it? If she couldn’t tell him what was happening to her, then who?

Her eyes were still closed as she said, “I’m starting to remember.”

She felt him stiffen in front of her. She opened her eyes, and Oro . . . his gaze was fire. He was angry, so angry—

Isla squirmed beneath his hands. Was he mad at her? She suddenly felt deeply ashamed for some reason, laid even more bare than she already was. “I’m sorry,” she said, and she wasn’t sure why.

Oro’s eyes softened immediately. “Isla, don’t ever apologize for something that isn’t your fault.” A muscle in his jaw shifted. “This is his fault.”

She understood now. Oro looked murderous because he wanted to kill Grim. He was the reason she was suffering.

She nodded. She agreed, and she hated him, hated him. She needed Oro to know that. “I despise him,” she said, words shaking in her mouth. “He is a monster, and I . . . I don’t want to remember.” She shook her head. “I’m trying my best to block them out, but with my powers untangled . . . I tried not to sleep, and it worked, for a while. But . . . I think things are starting to remind me of him, unlocking those memories. He went into my room during the Centennial; I don’t think that helps. He was in my mirror. It’s driving me mad. All I see when I close my eyes is him—”

“Move into my room,” Oro said immediately. Isla blinked. “What?”

“He’s certainly never been there.” Lest she suggest moving into any other room that wasn’t his, he added, “It’s the most protected place in the castle, should he be trying to reach you through other means. You can take it. I’ll stay somewhere else.”

Isla didn’t want him to stay anywhere else. The fact that she was wearing only lace in front of him was proof of that. But Oro wouldn’t hear of it.

By that afternoon, Oro had her stuff moved into his chambers and his moved out.

The memories stopped after Isla moved into Oro’s room, and she was able to peacefully sleep through the night. It was as if the proximity to the king’s belongings, sleeping in his bed, was enough to smother all thoughts of Grim. She found a drawer that had been forgotten, filled with his clothes, and claimed one of his shirts. Then another. And another. They were massive and comfortable, and wearing them to bed helped her feel less alone.

At training, she was better able to focus. Every day, she grew stronger, her power inching forward, the blade within her sharpening.

What had started as a reaction to an attack, a desperation to open the vault and prepare against the next crisis, had started to become . . . fun.

They were sitting in a forest on the Wildling newland, Lynx watching them as they trained. She visited the leopard often, bringing gifts, all of which he rejected. She would wait at the edge of the forest surrounding the Wildling castle, offering in hand. Eventually, he would prowl out to meet her, sniff what she had brought, and walk back into the woods.

She was convinced the only reason Lynx had stuck around this long today was because Oro was here.

They were telling each other what to make, back and forth.

“A yellow rose,” Oro said, and she made it bloom in front of them.

“A sunflower,” she told him, barely containing a smile. He rolled his eyes and made it.

“A twenty-foot vine,” he said, and she made it hang from a tree, so long it wrapped in spirals on the ground.

Her lips twitched.

“What?” he asked, voice flat.

“A—a—” She couldn’t say the words before bursting into laughter. And it really wasn’t that funny. Truly, it wasn’t funny at all.

But she didn’t know how long it had been since she had truly laughed.

A week had gone by without any memories. She felt lighter. Freer.

Oro seemed to like her laugh. He tried not to smile and failed, until his face was overcome with it. And she was no match for the brightness of that smile, like sunlight was filtering through his skin. His warmth grew, engulfing her like a blanket.

“What is it, Wildling?” he said, shaking his head as he watched her try to regain her composure.

She closed her eyes. Looking at his face would just make her laugh more; she was suddenly stuffed with joy. With happiness. With . . . love.

Sitting here, in front of him. Sharing a power between them. His patience, as he had helped her learn.

She breathed slowly, trying to stop herself from going into a fit again, and said, “A—” She laughed silently, shoulders shaking. “A golden blade of grass.”

She heard Oro sigh in his long-suffering way. She heard shuffling in front of her.

Her eyes were still closed when he lifted her hand, opened her fingers, and left something in her palm.

It was not a golden blade of grass. Or a golden apple.

It was a tiny rose, turned into solid gold. Petals frozen. Bulbous and beautiful. It was perfect.

Her lips parted as she looked up at him. He was smiling. Isla had never seen him look so happy.

“Oro,” she said. “Yes, Isla?”

Emotion made her throat go tight. Her voice was thick. “Everyone I’ve ever loved has betrayed me—”

His eyes gleamed with flames, the heat of his emotions burning the space between them.

“Except for you.”

She stood and walked in front of him. For the first time, she was towering over him from his place on the ground. He looked up at her, the sun illuminating the sharp panes of his face. He was beautiful. She’d known it from the first time she saw him—though she wouldn’t have admitted it to herself back then—but now she saw more. The set of his eyebrows, the way they were always straight, unless he was smiling. The way his frown seemed deep-rooted, his mouth nearly perpetually turned down. Except when he was with her.

“I want to burn all of them alive,” he said simply. “Everyone who ever hurt you. I want to watch them go up in flames.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s not very noble of you.” “I don’t care.”

By the set of his jaw, she knew he was thinking about one person in particular.

“Ask me,” she said. “Ask you what?”

“Ask me if I still love him.” During the Centennial, she had developed feelings for Grim. When it mattered, though, he couldn’t access her abilities. Still, Oro knew she was starting to remember their history. He must have wondered if it had changed anything.

Oro grimaced at the ground. “It isn’t a fair thing to ask.” “Ask me anyway.”

He paused. “You don’t have to answer.” “I know.”

“Do you love him?”

She didn’t hesitate. “No.”

Isla could see the little signs. She recognized them now. His shoulders settling. Jaw loosening. Relief.

She was telling the truth.

Isla didn’t love Grim. Perhaps she had, at one time. But that was in the past. Now she was completely focused on the future.

He was her future. He was her friend. The person she trusted. The person she was happiest with.

He finally stood, towering over her. She looked up at him and said, “Oro. Oro—I love you.”

He knew that. He had known for months, thanks to the thread between them. She had almost said the words before.

He went very still anyway.

Then he broke out in the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. “Say it again,” he said. “I missed it.”

“You did not,” she said, laughing. Then she took a step closer to him. “I love you.”

He closed his eyes, like he was taking every word in, committing this moment to his mind. “Again,” he said, like they were in training.

She took a step closer and whispered it right in front of him. “I love you

. . .” she said. “Even though you’ve never taken me on a date . . . even though you’ve never so much as kissed me.”

Oro opened his eyes and peered down at her. “You want to be kissed, Wildling?” he said.

She shrugged. “Among other things.”

He shook his head at her, but then he raked his long fingers through her hair, cupped her by the back of the neck—

And kissed her.

His lips were hot as flames. Their first kiss was soft. Loving.

Their second was not. He pulled back to look at her for just a moment, then seemed to forget they were in front of Lynx, who made a sound of distaste. In a quick motion, he lifted her to his height by the waist, turned, pressed her against the closest tree, and kissed her desperately.

He parted her lips, and she could taste him—he was summer and heat and fire, and when he bit her bottom lip, she groaned into his mouth. She couldn’t get enough of this; her heart felt like it might burst inside her. Her chest tightened as she felt his warm, muscled body pressed against hers.

His grip kept her firmly against the tree, but his thumbs swept under her shirt, making circles against her lower stomach.

Fire flowed through her veins at his every touch. She lowered her head and brushed her lips against his neck and kissed against his pulse. It quickened—his hands suddenly curled beneath her, and she locked her legs behind his back.

Want bloomed deep within her. His eyes were rooted to hers, flashing with intensity. She reached for his shirt—

Lynx growled in warning.

Oro laughed silently, then carefully took the hand that had tried to undress him in his. He pressed their intertwined knuckles against the tree, next to her head.

His lips swept down her neck. “I love you too,” he said against one of her collarbones, and then he kissed her again.

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