Home > Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(24)

Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(24)
Author: Kresley Cole

How could he be so good to me when I’d hurt him so deeply? I remembered his blood-curdling roar when I’d ridden away from him—to be with Jack. . . .

As hours—days? weeks?—passed, Aric remained with me. At times, I could tell he was biting back sounds of grief.

Other times, he talked to me. He told me about my grandmother: “The sight of you gave her a . . . shock. But she will recover. Just as you will.”

He told me about the other Arcana: “Lark sent a scout back to that clearing to collect her falcon and my sword. There were no bodies at the crash site. As I suspected, Fortune and the Sun survived.”

One time I heard a wolfish whimper, and a slobbery tongue licked my hand. “You have a visitor,” Aric said. “Your favorite.” Cyclops? He’d made it! “I’ve always appreciated the potential of the wolves, but I never thought we would owe our lives to them.”

Now another wave of agony hit. My screams echoed. I didn’t want to scare anyone, but I couldn’t choke them back.

“I need to help you.” He sounded so gutted, as if his pain mirrored mine. “How can I help you?”

I didn’t think anything could be done. And so, I had two new missions.

To make sure Aric killed me if I began to turn. And to extract a promise of bloody revenge against the Emperor. As soon as I could speak.

Aric tensed against me. “She returns.”

Footsteps neared. “Is there . . . any change?” my grandmother asked in a weak voice. Were her words slurred?

She was maddeningly close. If only I could communicate with her. Did she know that Haven was ash? That her daughter had died?

Aric answered, “The Empress will rally.”

“Sir . . .” Paul was down here as well? He did pretty much everything around the castle, from cooking all meals to stitches. I didn’t envy Paul his job at Castle Death.

The man was brave enough to say, “She might be starting to turn. If you wait too long, she could bite another.”

The idea of harming someone else sickened me even more. I whispered, “Kill me,” but no one seemed to have heard me.

“I will do nothing,” Aric said, “until—or unless—she craves blood.”

I shuddered.

“Leave her with me,” Gran said. “You shouldn’t be in this bed with her, holding her like that. She’s a girl of seventeen.”

“She’s a millennia-old Empress.”

“I should take care of her,” Gran insisted.

“You forget that this is my home, Tarasova. I will do as I please.”

I wondered why he hadn’t told her we were married. Aric hadn’t been shy in announcing that fact to Jack.

But that had been before I’d rejected Aric and his claim on me. Before I’d broken this man’s heart. . . .


My eyes darted behind my lids as I hovered between sleep and wakefulness. I was in a bed. I sensed plants all around me.

When the pain had finally dwindled to a manageable level, I cracked open my eyes. Could only make out a white blank.

Ah, God, why couldn’t I see? Would my sight return? I blinked over and over. Maybe I was turning, my eyes gone filmy?

No, some kind of brightness blazed down. Oh. The sunlamps. I was in the nursery.

Blurry images began to take shape. Why was there a bed down here? Vines and rose stalks traipsed over my body and the footboard.

Beneath the mass of green, I shifted my limbs, flexing my muscles. My arms and legs were weak and sore as hell, but healing.

I eased my head back. Aric sat up against the headboard, his eyes closed. Vines and rose stalks covered him as well.

In sleep, his brow furrowed, his lips thinned. He had golden stubble over his lean cheeks and dark circles under his eyes, looking older and more exhausted than I had ever seen him. He wore black pants and a thin dark sweater, but I could tell he’d lost weight.

How long had he been here with me? After our history, I was surprised he could tolerate the plants overrunning him.

Memory fragments from my recovery surfaced: his soothing words, his care, his updates about life around the castle. He’d challenged me to heal and stayed with me the entire time.

All around us, plants—even trees—merged to make walls. He’d chosen to remain inside my deadly green lair. I stretched my arm over him, savoring his warmth and strength.

His amber eyes blinked open. He found me staring at him, and his lips curved. “Sievā.” Pinpoints of light radiated from his spellbinding gaze.

“You’re okay with these plants?” I murmured, my throat scratchy.

His smile widened. “I’m thankful to them. They comforted you more than I could have.”

I didn’t know about that. “How long was I out?”

“For weeks.”

My jaw slackened. “That can’t be right.”

“Those Bagmen bit you more than a dozen times. Your legs were badly injured and you’d been shot. Your regeneration ability had much to contend with.”

I did remember landing feet first. “Will I . . . turn?”

“I do not believe that. You would have already.” Aric would never lie to me.

I relaxed somewhat. With a wave of my hand, I moved the vines off the bed, off him.

He appeared to relax a touch as well. “If someone had said a few of months ago that I would nod off while surrounded by the Empress’s vines, I’d have called him mad.” He reached for a glass of water on a tray. He helped me sit up and brought the cup to my lips. “Easy.”

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