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I nodded, trying not to feel bad about what I was doing. “I don’t think we have much time here. The queen said we have free rein, but if my father is here and Cassava is with him—”

“Then she might already know we’re here,” Cactus finished for me. I nodded.

Peta stretched her body out, her eyes on mine. I had to fight not to flush under her gaze. “Let me out then,” she said.

I walked her to the door and opened it a crack. She reached back and stuck her claws into my pants. “Lark. He will hurt you. Don’t do this.”

“I have to know, Peta. Spirit spoke to me when I was with Ash. If it is quiet with Cactus, then—”

A sigh escaped her. “I trust you. I do not trust him.”

She stepped out with a flick of her tail and I shut the door.

“Did you get rid of your familiar?” Cactus was right behind me, his hands on my shoulders. He slid them down my arms to my hands, a slow burn flickering in his wake.

I turned my head and stared into his eyes. “I love you both, Cactus.”

“I won’t share you, Lark.”

“Then we can’t do this. Because I won’t give him up.” My own words shocked me, but they came from my heart. I would not give Ash up for Cactus, any more than I would give up Cactus for Ash.

In that moment, I knew I had it in me to love them both, if they would let me.

He tugged me back against his chest and kissed me from behind. His free hands slid under my vest, caressing the skin of my belly. Heat flared where he touched, making me arch against him. I wanted him, wanted his skin on mine and his kisses, his laughter and sweet smile.

I spun in his arms and wrapped myself around him. He stumbled a little under my weight and we both laughed. “Easy, tiger,” he murmured against my lips.

“Easy nothing. Love is a harsh taskmistress.”

“Then I think I should spank her.”

I threw my head back and laughed. He kissed my throat and nipped at the delicate skin, which turned my laugh into a groan.

Stumbling backward, we hit the bed together as we peeled out of our clothes. Every fantasy I’d had about him rushed forward and I took great pleasure as I ran my hands over his bare skin, feeling the way his muscles tensed. He rolled to his side and touched my arm where my tattoo curled. “I should have stopped her sooner.”

The wounds had been the result of the lava whip, wielded by the queen of the Pit. I should have died, but was healed first by Blackbird, which still confused me, and then fully healed by the mother goddess. But I was left with the curling vine studded with thorns that marked every place the whip had touched. I barely noticed it.

“What’s done is done. Unless you want to kiss it better?” I arched an eyebrow at him, surprising even myself. Playfulness was not something I knew in the bedroom. Yet with Cactus, it seemed natural.

Grinning from ear to ear, he bent his head. “As you wish, princess.”

His lips found their way around my body with ease, drawing more than one moan from my own lips.

Cactus lay on top of me, holding himself up on his elbows. “Are you sure? I don’t want you to complain I seduced you and you had no idea what you were doing, in the morning.”

I rolled my eyes. “Keep talking and I’ll change my mind.”

He kissed me softly and lowered himself—

The door rattled with the force of a body being tossed against it and Peta screeched, “Lark, Blackbird is here!”

I jerked away from Cactus and ran to the door, scooping only my spear as I went. I flung the door open and Peta—in her leopard form—fell in. Blood splattered her coat and she was breathing hard. “I’m fine, but you can catch him. End of the hall, Samara has him cornered.”

I didn’t wait for Cactus, or bother with my clothes. My bare feet on the floor energized me in a way I’d never felt when I’d connected with the earth before. I used the power to send me all but flying to where Peta had directed.

At the end of the hall, I slid to a stop as Samara went flying through the air right in front of me. A wild wind whipped down the hallway and held her aloft. She glanced at me, then pointed with her sharpened staff.

I stepped around the corner. Blackbird was indeed cornered, his back to the mountain and no way out.

“Let me guess, you have my father here?”

Blackbird laughed, though there was a nervous edge to it for the first time. “Please, I don’t need Father.”

“Then why are you here?” I approached him, my spear held across my body.

“You’re here, Lark, isn’t that enough? You and I are tied, bound together in ways you cannot understand yet.”

“Not good enough.” I was close enough that I knew I could leap and tackle him.

Samara stepped up beside me. “You know him?”

“One of the problems I’ve been dealing with.”

She grunted.

“You’re looking lovely, Lark. Perhaps you and I should be discussing the potential between us. We could produce the most powerful children.”

“I’d have to be tied down and unconscious.”

He swept his cloak back over one leg and I got a glimpse of dark brown leather pants. Not unlike a Terraling Ender. “That can be arranged.”

Revulsion curled through me.

His presence didn’t surprise me, but I couldn’t figure out what need he had of my father. And then it hit me.

“Your lover is here, isn’t she? Cassava has hidden herself away and you’re helping her.”

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