Home > A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)(8)

A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)(8)
Author: Laura Thalassa

“Des, that’s not what I meant when I asked for a secret.”

“And yet you received a secret nonetheless. Consider yourself indulged.” He squeezes my backside for emphasis, and I let out a little shriek, which causes him to chuckle. And that rumbly chuckle leads to kissing … lots and lots of languid, delicious kissing.

When I finally break away, I lay my head against his chest. The room falls to silence, the only sound the thump of Des’s heart beneath my ear. I close my eyes.

I can get used to this.

What a terrifying thought.

“For two centuries you’ve been nothing but a whisper of a possibility,” Des says, breaking the silence. “And then I met you.” He pauses, like an entire story begins and ends with that sentence. Like life was one thing before he met me, and it became something else afterwards.

It’s enough to make me ignore the fact that he’s all but admitted to being over two centuries old.

“You were everything I never knew I wanted. You were chaos. You were desperation. You were the most mysterious secret I’d ever come across. Everything about you drew me in—your innocence, your vulnerability, hell, even your tragic life. You were the most captivating creature I’d ever come across.”

My throat works at his words. There’s a gravity not just to what he’s saying, but that he’s saying it at all. I asked for a secret and he gave me a revelation, something that I can hold close to my heart late at night.

“Seven years apart,” he continues, “and the woman you became was a world away from the girl I met.” He tilts my head so that he can look me in the eye. “That only made me want you more. You were both old and new, familiar and exotic, within reach and forbidden. And I wanted you so badly for so long I was sure it would kill me.

“And when I look at you even now—especially now—I see one simple truth.”

He stops speaking.

I sit up a little. “What was the truth?”

In the darkness, I can see him staring back down at me. “You are magic, love.”

Chapter 6

There’s blood everywhere. In my hair, on my skin, splattered around where I lay. I push my torso up off the ground, glancing around me.

No.

Not this place.

Not again.

I take in the rotting leaves that cover the floor, the dead vines that climb up the walls of the long room, and the chair of bones that looms large amongst it all.

Karnon’s throne room.

“Pretty, pretty bird.”

My blood runs cold at the voice at my back.

It can’t be.

The Fauna king is dead.

“Do you like your wings?”

But that voice …

A shiver ripples down my spine.

Karnon’s voice is deep and rough, just like I remember it.

Leaves crunch under his feet as he comes around to my front.

First I see his twisting antlers, then his strange, mad eyes and wild hair.

God, it is him.

“Now you’re a beast like the rest of us.”

I pinch my eyes shut. He’s dead.

“You’ll never be free,” he says … only, Karnon’s voice is no longer his own. It’s another voice I know all too well.

My eyes snap open and I stare at my stepfather. The same man I accidently killed eight years ago. Why have these ghosts come back to haunt me?

I only have seconds to gape at him before the room darkens.

The air shifts to my left, stirring my hair. I glance over, but I might as well be blind, the darkness is complete.

On the nape of my neck, I feel someone’s breath, so close that they must be leaning over me, but when I spin around and reach out, my hand only grasps air.

In the dark, I hear the faint echo of laughter, raising the gooseflesh along my arm.

In response to my fear, my siren comes out, making my skin glow softly.

“Who’s there?” I call out.

“Secrets are meant for one soul to keep,” a woman’s voice rings out, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

“Who are you?”

“He’s coming for you.” This time, it’s a child’s voice that speaks from the darkness.

“Who?” I say.

Karnon is dead.

Laughter echoes all around me, growing louder and louder. In it I can hear the woman’s voice, the child’s, the Fauna king’s, and my stepfather’s. I can hear them and so many others laughing at me.

All at once, it ceases.

“Who?” I repeat.

The air rumbles like thunder, thickening as some strong magic builds and builds, gathering power. With a crack, a booming voice breaks through the magic—

“Me.”

I gasp awake. My wide eyes gaze into Des’s pinched ones. His hands cup my face, his worried gaze searching my expression.

That dream felt too real. My stepfather and Karnon are both dead and gone, and yet on nights like tonight, it’s as though they never died.

I suck in air, my chest rising and falling far too fast.

Of course, those evil men only starred in a portion of the dream. There were other equally chilling presences calling out to me from the darkness. Intuitively, I know who they belong to—the sleeping women and their unnatural children.

And then there was that final voice … I don’t know what to make of it.

His brow pinched, Des kisses me fiercely. As quick as it begins, it’s over.

“You wouldn’t wake,” he says.

I shiver. It might’ve been just a dream, but the truth is that the warrior women still sleep and the male soldiers are still missing. Karnon might be dead, but his work isn’t.

I stare into Des’s eyes. “I want to see the casket children again.”

For the second time in my life, I willingly go visit the little monsters that the sleeping soldiers gave birth to. I might very well be the stupidest woman out there for seeking them out again. But there’s something I have to see.

“Remind me again why I agreed to this?” Des says next to me, echoing my thoughts.

Today Des wears the T-shirt and black pants combo I’m so used to seeing him in, his hair tied back with a leather thong and his sleeve of tattoos on display. He looks broody as hell, probably because he’s not exactly thrilled to be bringing me back to the royal nursery.

“I’m helping you solve this mystery,” I say, heading down the hall.

He doesn’t say anything to that, but a muscle in his jaw tightens.

I can feel it, low in my belly, the fear that whatever happened to me and those women wasn’t the end of this. Death should lift magic—even fae magic. That’s one rule that’s the same both here and on earth.

When we enter the nursery, a wave of déjà vu washes over me. Many of the younger children lie in cribs or beds, eerily still, and the older ones stand at the far side of the room, staring out the large windows. It’s all nearly identical to how I found them before.

The only thing different about the nursery is that more beds and cradles have been brought in, all to accommodate the influx of children that came from Karnon’s prison.

I try not to shudder as I stare at the kids. They were frightening before, when they were simply strange children that drank blood and prophesized, but now knowing how they were conceived … The horror washes over me all over again.

Even after the nurse announces us to the kids, none of them move.

The hair along my arms begins to rise.

There’s something deeply unsettling about these kids, this place.

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