Chapter no 44

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

The bag of coins made a distant THUMP as it fell to the floor, Raihn’s hands abandoning it for my body.

He kissed me like he was starving. Kissed me the way he had fed

from me in a cave once, many months ago—desperate and deep and full of hunger, like I was the only thing tethering him to the world. And Mother, I felt that way, too, like I was grasping hold of something solid for the first time in so long.

Like I had come home.

I had told myself I’d forgotten what it was like to kiss Raihn.

That was a lie. A body doesn’t forget a thing like this—it was carved into my muscle memory, a piece of myself that had awakened from some dormant state. He kissed me with not just his mouth, but his whole body— just like he fought, with every muscle rearranged to the task, centered around me alone.

This dress was so fucking thin.

The silk let me feel everything. His hands, large and rough, trailing down my body like he wanted to memorize every muscle, drink up every curve. The warmth of him, so close I could’ve sworn I felt the throb of his heartbeat beneath his skin. His cock—Goddess, his cock, hard and thick and straining between us already.

Yes, the silk let me feel everything. It let me feel how much Raihn had wanted this, for so long.

It forced me to feel how much I’d wanted it, too.

Lust pooled low in my stomach, my breasts peaking against the too-flimsy fabric of my dress and Raihn’s hard chest beyond it, the apex of my

thighs tightening. My body remembered what it was like to kiss him, yes, but it remembered more than that, too. It remembered what it felt like to fuck him. Like a missing piece replaced.

And now, it wanted that. It begged for it. When Raihn’s hands slid down over the curve of my backside, brushing the sensitive flesh at the top of my inner thighs, my breath hitched.

The sound he made in return, barely audible, rolled through me like thunder.

The wave of desire made me suddenly dizzy—desire, though, with a darker edge, sharp and dangerous, forged in the anger I’d held so close for so long.

In one abrupt movement, I pushed him down to the bed. He fell against it roughly, the frame squealing in protest against his sudden weight. I started to crawl over him, but a wince flitted across his face, and I hesitated, noticing again the extent of his wounds—brutal, even if they were already starting to heal now that he was out of the sun.

“Don’t you dare stop, princess,” Raihn rasped, reading my face, the wince giving way to a twisted half smile. “Please. I don’t care if it fucking kills me.”

His calloused fingertips brushed my cheek, sweeping dangling black hair behind my ear.

“Only good thing about the last time it happened was that you were the last thing I saw.”

His voice still had that lilt to it, light and joking, but the smile had faded. Nothing light about that. Nothing light about his touch, either. All of it was steeped in such agonizing tenderness.

It made my chest hurt. Made my eyes burn. It—it made me angry.

I wasn’t ready for that. Not yet. Not when the remnants of my anger were still so sharp in my veins, the dregs of it tearing at the wounds they’d opened these last few months.

He started to sit up, reaching for me, but I pushed him back to the bed. “No,” I said.

Confusion flitted over his face.

“Don’t move,” I said. “You don’t get to control this.”

The confusion melted into understanding. Even that, at first, was too affectionate, too soft, until he replaced it with a slow smirk curling over his


I pressed down on his shoulder again, firmly, in a command to stay put. Then I shifted my attention to his clothing. I started at the buttons of his jacket, undoing each knot of silver across his chest. With each one, the blue silk fell away, exposing bare skin—a landscape of swells and dips of muscle, rising and falling heavily beneath his breath, covered with fresh wounds and old scars and soft dark hair that narrowed as I worked down his abdomen.

I’d hated that costume from the moment I saw it on him. And that’s exactly what it was: a costume, trying to make Raihn into one of the people who had once subjugated him.

That wasn’t who he was.

It now seemed so sickeningly obvious, I wondered how I’d ever even questioned it. No, the version of him that I revealed with every opened button, every new expanse of imperfect, once-human skin…

This was him.

I finished with his jacket, and he helped me by lifting his shoulders as I pulled it off of him and tossed it to the floor. I lowered myself over his chest, tracing his muscles with my fingertips, pausing over his nipple as it hardened beneath my touch, then tracing down, over each raised ridge of abdomen, to his stomach and the darkening trail of hair leading to his trousers.

And Raihn, ever obedient, did not move, though I could feel his ravenous stare. Not even when my hands fell to his waistband, unbuttoned it, and set him free.

The first time I’d seen his cock, I’d been shocked that such a thing could be considered beautiful—and yet, this time, too, it was the only word I could think: beautiful.

His entire body tensed when I wrapped my hand around it. It twitched a little against my touch, his abs tightening. I watched the bead of liquid at its head swell.

He wanted me. He wanted me so much he wasn’t even breathing anymore, his hands tight around the bedspread. And Goddess, the ache between my own thighs was getting harder to ignore. So easy, to just crawl over him, let him slide inside me.

Too easy.

There was no such thing as easy pleasure.

I wanted him to suffer for this.

I lowered, brushing my lips over the tip of him, tongue darting out against the salty sweet of the liquid on his skin.

Raihn drew in a sharp hiss. His entire body tensed, straining, like it was taking everything he had not to lunge across the bed and grab me.

Still, he didn’t move.

I softened my mouth against him, this time in a slower, longer lick— still gentle, gentle enough that I knew it would be torturous.

This time, his exhale had a hint of a groan to it. “You’re vicious,” he murmured.

He had lifted his head just enough to watch me, his gaze predatory, like he’d rather die than blink.

An intense wave of familiarity passed over me at this—me leaning over him, him watching me, and that look of such barely restrained lust.

Should I make you beg? I had asked him then.

I swept my tongue over him again, slow, and he let out another hitched exhale.

“You told me once you would beg for me,” I murmured. Another brush of my lips.

“So do it.”

I didn’t break eye contact. His sparkled with vicious delight.

“Let me touch you,” he rasped. And Goddess, yes, he was begging, every word desperate. “Let me feel you. Even though I don’t deserve you. Please.”

I slowly crawled over his body, until my hips were aligned with his. My dress was hiked up, silk pooling at my upper thighs—I knew we were both so agonizingly conscious of how close we were, as I let my hips lower just enough that his length brushed my folds. I bit down hard on my own moan at even that momentary, barely-there touch.

I wouldn’t let him see how much I wanted it.

I lowered myself to my elbows, leaving us inches apart. “And?” I said.

His gaze glinted with pleasure, like a cat enjoying a game of chase. And yet, beneath that feral delight, something deeper lingered. His fingertips raised to my cheek. Not quite brushing it. Still obeying.

“Let me make you the queen that you are. Let me guard your body, your soul, your heart. Let me spend the rest of my fucking pathetic life at your

mercy. If I need to die, then let me do it by your hand. Please.” My chest ached, nearly as fiercely as my desire did.

My hips shifted, and I felt him twitch again, that tiny movement making my breath tremble.

“And?” I whispered.

He loosened a shaky exhale, the smirk twisting his lips. “And for fuck’s sake, princess, I’m begging you, let me go to my knees for you.”

We lingered like that, our bodies so close to total intertwinement, and yet not touching at all.

And then I whispered, “Fine.”

The thread of self-control snapped. If Raihn’s injuries slowed him down, he didn’t show it. His mouth crashed against mine, rolling over and pushing me down to the bed, his hand running up my body as if the last minutes of not touching me had been torturous.

And then, just as quickly, his weight was gone. Instead, he was off the bed, grabbing my legs and sliding me down.

And just as he promised, he went to his knees.

I couldn’t help but watch him, transfixed, as he gently pushed the silk of my skirt up around my hips, pushing open my thighs. In the presence of gods, he had not looked so reverent.

His gaze slowly raised to meet mine. “Is this acceptable, princess?”

My brow twitched. “Princess?”

He laughed, low and rough. “Queen.”

He started at my inner thigh, his kisses so gentle they almost tickled, lifting my leg and placing it over his shoulder.

“My queen,” he whispered again, the words pressed to my skin with each kiss, trailing farther up the sensitive flesh of my inner thighs.

Mother help me. My thighs opened, making more room for him, my body conscious of nothing but the anticipation of his touch, his kiss.

When it came, right where I wanted it, he was gentle at first, pulling aside my delicate lace underwear and planting soft kisses along my slit.

So light. So gentle. And yet the shock of pleasure wrung my body tight, my back arching.

He hummed his approval against my skin, the vibration echoing through my core.

“Better,” he murmured. “Better than I remember. Better than your blood.”

Another touch of his tongue, this one a little firmer, ending it in a long, lingering kiss.

I clenched my jaw against the whimper of pleasure, my hands clutching the bedspread. Mother, I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Not yet. Even if it killed me.

Another touch, another gasp, another shock of pleasure.

Keeping my moans quiet now took herculean will, my teeth so tight I distantly thought they might crack.

More. The word was on the tip of my tongue. But I wasn’t asking Raihn for anything now.

“Let me worship you, Oraya,” he whispered, and something about the vibration of my name on his lips against the most sensitive parts of me made me shiver. It was wrought with such utter desperation. I had told him to beg. He was begging. “And let me taste you when you come. Please.”

His tongue met me firmer now, in a long lick up the length of my slit, swirling around my bud with just the faintest brush of his teeth.

Goddess help me. I—I couldn’t—

A strangled moan escaped me, breaking free from my attempts to swallow it.

His mouth still to me, Raihn met it with a groan of equal strength, like the sound was water to a man dying of thirst.

“Again,” he whispered. “Please.”

And Mother help me, I couldn’t have denied him. Not even if I’d wanted to. Because that sound broke the remaining vestiges of Raihn’s self-control, and suddenly his slow, languid work became fierce and desperate.

He worked at me like his singular purpose in life was to wring the most pleasure from my body—his mouth now firm and unrelenting, strokes hard and definitive, moving from my entrance, to my clit, and back, kissing and suckling. My hips ground against him, chasing his movements—I couldn’t help it, couldn’t control my own muscles anymore.

“Good,” he murmured. “Just like that. Let me help you.”

Yes, I thought, blindly. Yes, yes, yes.

And I didn’t realize until his growl of pleasure that I was saying it aloud, over and over again—giving him the answer he had been asking for. Giving him everything he wanted as he gave me everything I needed. My

hands had found his head, tangling in red-black waves, unsure whether I was pulling him closer or pushing him away.

Closer, I decided, as his tongue worked at my clit in just the right way, as his fingers slid inside me, as his curse of pleasure shot up my spine like a bolt of lightning.

I loved his voice. I couldn’t even deny how much I loved his voice. That was my last thought, before the wave of pleasure consumed me,

wiping them all away.

When my orgasm faded, I was breathing heavily. A faint sheen of sweat covered my skin. My muscles felt loose and shaky. And yet, when I opened my eyes to see Raihn, naked, climbing back onto the bed, desire already stirred again.

He looked so damned beautiful—the lantern light playing over the bare panes of his body, marked by time and wounds and scars and a life well lived, flames reflecting in the lustful rust-red of his eyes, locked to me as if nothing else existed.

Seeing, as always, more than I wished he did. Seeing, as always, me.

Suddenly I felt so wildly exposed, even though he was naked and I was fully clothed. The facade of my games had collapsed. The final heat of my anger had fizzled away like a candle dying in the night.

I blinked and felt a tear streak down my cheek.

Raihn settled beside me. He wiped the tear away with his thumb.

“I hate you,” I choked out. But the words weren’t an admonishment.

They were weak, sad, bare.

They did not say, I hate you because you killed my father.

They said, I hate you because I let you hurt me. I hate you because I grieved you.

I hate you because I don’t.

There was no hurt in his eyes. No anger. Only gentle, affectionate understanding. I hated when he looked at me like that.

Or maybe I hated that, too, the same way I hated him. Not at all. He kissed me on the forehead.

“I know, princess,” he whispered. “I know you do.”

His lips moved down, to the bridge of my nose. My eyes closed against his kisses, a little damp with my tears.

“You have destroyed me,” he murmured. “And I have hated every moment of it, too.”

The truth of those words swelled in my chest, unbearably heavy. He said them in the same voice he’d said our wedding vows.

I opened my eyes to find his staring directly into mine. The shades of them—so many disparate colors, coming together to create something of such beauty—stunned me.

“Let me kiss you,” he whispered. Begging, still.

“Yes,” I whispered.

He tasted faintly of my own pleasure, but more distinctly of him— foreign and familiar, sweet and bitter. This kiss was not like our battle from before. This was an apology, a plea, a greeting, a goodbye, a million words rolled into several endless seconds in which time died between us.

I hate you, I thought, with every new angle, every searching stroke of his tongue, every soft apology of his lips. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

And with each kiss, I breathed the words into him, even as I pulled him closer, even as I let his body fall over mine.

Raihn’s mouth trailed down, over my jaw, my throat. Lingering there for a moment—over two sets of scars—before moving down farther still, to my shoulder. Only then did he lift himself up, fingers playing at the strap of my gown.

“Let me see you,” he rasped. “Please.” I nodded.

He slid the straps from my shoulders. He kissed each new expanse of skin as he peeled back the silk—over my shoulder, my breasts, my hardened nipples, the curve of my waist, my hip, my upper thigh. And finally, he pulled the crumpled silk free and flung it off the bed, gaze already transfixed on me, naked and exposed before him.

It wasn’t cold. Yet goosebumps broke out over my skin. He let out a rough laugh.

“What?” I asked.

“I just—” His mouth returned to me, lingering at my peaked breasts in a way that made my breath tremble.

“I just don’t have fucking words,” he whispered, as his lips traveled higher, taking a meandering path back to mine. “I don’t have words for you.”

Words were overrated, anyway. I was grateful he didn’t have any, because the ones that jumbled in my chest were confusing and difficult.

“Good,” I whispered, and kissed him.

Our bodies intertwined again. The length of Raihn’s cock against my leg made my thighs inch open. His hands over my body grew more frantic, like he wanted to take in all of it at once.

Mother, I wanted him. I wanted him as open and exposed and vulnerable as he had made me.

A little wordless sound escaped my throat, and Raihn’s lips curled against my mouth.

“What, princess? What do you want?”

A genuine offer. Like he wanted nothing more than to give me what I needed.

Goddess, so many answers to that question.

I want you inside me. I want you to fuck me until I don’t remember my own name. I want to watch you come undone the way you just watched me.

I want you.

But what came out of my mouth was, “I want your blood.”

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