Home > Heart on Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #3)(9)

Heart on Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #3)(9)
Author: Amanda Bouchet

   Kaia must know that as well as anyone. Her erratic breathing turns so loud it snaps my focus back to her. She’s staring at my belly.

   “Too late,” Ares says flatly, confirming my worst fears. “Call a God, lose a soul. But I can’t take Talia.”

   He can’t? But that means… No. No. No! Not Griffin!

   Griffin seems to unbend a fraction. His hold on my wrist changes, but probably only to shift his tighter grip to Kaia. She flinches in reaction, but I don’t know if it’s because her arm hurts under Griffin’s iron hand, or because her chances of being taken away by Ares just went from one in three to a full fifty percent.

   My throat closes up until I can barely swallow. Gods, this can’t be happening.

   Wait? Did Ares just call me Talia? A new ripple of unease tingles the length of my spine. Only people from my past and my blood family—or what’s left of them—call me that.

   “The laws of Olympus forbid me to take two souls at once. She’s with child, and therefore carrying a second soul inside her. But I wouldn’t take her anyway. Not after we spent years putting her in place.”

   He’s talking about my destiny. Destroyer of realms. I thought I was finally coming to terms with my fate, but the churning inside me says otherwise. Or maybe that’s Little Bean. Right now, it’s hard to tell.

   “Years’ worth of people and events carefully watched and nudged in order to urge the Origin toward her throne. All that effort undermined in an instant because you can’t see farther than your own nose? Because you can’t compete in your brother’s eyes with his wife’s power and knowledge? Because they are both so much more than you will ever be?”

   Ares’s anger seems to rip all the air from around us. Suddenly, I can’t breathe, and then there’s a fist-like tightening in my gut.

   I grab my lower belly. “Griffin?”

   He looks down at me just as my womb seizes, contracting painfully. I can deal with the pain. It’s the abrupt terror that’s hard to take. I let out a deep groan that doesn’t help me at all but that makes Griffin go even paler than before. He lets go of Kaia, instinctively reaching for me.

   At the same time, cool fingers land on the back of my neck, pushing down. Strong currents of magic nip at my hairline and then spread out through the rest of me.

   “Bend over.” Selena’s familiar voice joins her healing touch. “Breathe.”

   The moment she touches me, some of the pain and panic subside. Confusion takes their place. We left her at Castle Tarva hours ago. I have no idea how she got here, but her presence brings instant comfort and soothing relief. Griffin grunts something in surprise, probably at her sudden appearance, but I keep my head down, letting the blood flow back into it.

   “Where did you come from?” I brace my hands on my knees as another wave of tightness grips my belly. Selena is shockingly powerful and probably the best healer of our time—not to mention Hades’s lover—but even after eight years of being more-or-less mothered by her, I had no idea she could appear out of thin air.

   Selena doesn’t answer, which doesn’t surprise me. Her hand tightens on my nape, keeping my head down. “Breathe,” she says again.

   Griffin squats down next to me, peering into my face. A deep groove settles into the space between his eyebrows. His color isn’t good. “Agapi mou?”

   “What’s happening?” I ask him, my voice reedy with fear.

   A shadow flits through Griffin’s eyes. He shakes his head, looking anxious and at a loss. He doesn’t know, either. Or maybe we both do, and neither of us wants to admit it.

   His wide mouth flattens, whitening, and then he touches my face with a light caress that brings an instant sting to my eyes. The rough tips of his fingers slide gently over my cheek to carefully tuck a dangling twist of hair behind my ear. I take a shuddering breath, and his frown deepens. I can tell he wants to reassure me, but Griffin won’t lie to me. Or to himself.

   I blink hard, just barely holding back tears. I think Eleni is in trouble. What if I lose her?

   Selena smooths her hand down my spine and then back up to my neck, making a shushing sound. “She’ll be fine. If I had to guess, which I don’t, I’d say your little Eleni is protesting her uncle’s idiocy.” She rubs my back again in a slow, even rhythm. As she does, healing magic seeps into me, and the worst of the cramping starts to subside. I breathe more easily with each stroke of her power-charged hand.

   “But she’s still tiny.” My voice wavers. I can’t stop the tremor in it. “Like a bean.”

   Selena makes a low sound that’s not quite a laugh. “Look at her parents. She may be tiny, but she’s a powerhouse and not to be underestimated, even at this stage.”

   Really? Oh my Gods. Am I going to have to figure out disciplining her before she’s even out? I can’t have her making me sick every time someone does something stupid. Okay, incredibly stupid, but still…

   “You were just as aware early on as she is. You simply don’t remember it now.”

   “But this early?” I shake my head. “That’s not possible.”

   Selena sighs, her hand stopping on my nape. “Everything is possible. And I thought you were finally past denial as your knee-jerk reaction.”

   I try to straighten, feeling better now. Physically, at least. There’s still a whole lot to worry about—namely, Ares—but Selena keeps my head down.

   “Don’t mince your words or anything. And let me up,” I demand.

   She gives my neck a quick squeeze before lifting her hand. Under other circumstances, the gesture might have felt reassuring.

   “I suppose it’s finally time to have this out.” Selena sounds like she’s grumbling, and I’ve never known her to do something as churlish as grumble before.

   I push my hair back from my face as I slowly straighten up. “Have what ou—”

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