Crown of Darkness by Bec McMaster

The bristles that line his jaw spike roughly against my hand as I stroke his cheek. “What was it like?”

Thiago softens into my touch and sighs. “Hectic. Loud. Cold. Old Mother Hibbert had over a hundred of us there in her hut—”

“A single hut?”

His lips kick up wryly. “It’s not the kind of hut you could imagine. The inside is bigger than the outside, and there are chambers burrowed into the walls and tunnels. It’s a labyrinth, and sometimes the walls and doors changed. Sometimes rooms moved. Sometimes the hut even moved, though it did so mostly at night, and we’d only notice when we woke and found ourselves in a new part of the forest.” He stares blankly into the mirror. “It was cold though. Always cold. And there was never quite enough food.”

I hate that he spent his childhood this way.

“Sometimes the foraging parties wouldn’t return,” he admits in a lower voice. “Old Mother Hibbert would ring the bell when that happened, and we’d all have to return to our rooms and hide under our beds. She’d lock the doors and ward the hut, and we had to be silent. So silent. If we didn’t make it back in time—” He exhales sharply. “There are many creatures who hunger for fae flesh in Unseelie. And children are the most vulnerable. Old Mother Hibbert tried to protect us as best she could, but over a dozen children vanished every year. It was… a nervous upbringing.”

I step into his body and wrap my arms around him. Thiago stiffens, but then he slowly relaxes into the embrace, his callused hand coming up to stroke the ripple of my spine through my nightgown.

He’s been there every step of the way for me.

It’s only right that I return the favor.

“I wish that I could take that away for you.” And maybe this is the reason I looked into his eyes that long-ago night of Lammastide and saw the other half of my soul.

We have both been lonely.

We have both been lost.

I always thought I was the broken one, but maybe he’s broken too? Maybe our jagged edges can meet in the middle and somehow… fill each other up.

“Pain is what shapes you,” he murmurs, cupping my face and tilting my chin up. His gaze falls to my lips. “I would never give up a single moment of suffering, a single step in my path, because it all brought me here. To you, Vi.”

This prince. I don’t deserve him.

But my tongue, as always, won’t say what I want to say. “Even if I make deals with eldritch creatures?”

Thiago’s gaze falls to my lips. “Keeps life interesting.”

“Mmm.” The way he’s looking at me. “I feel like you’re trying to make life interesting yourself….”

It’s easier to steer the conversation away from those things best left avoided.

“Do tell?” His voice is like molten honey as he lowers his head. “Perhaps you would prefer to make a deal with me?”

“What kind of deal?”

“The kind where—"

A sharp rap comes at the door, breaking us apart.

Even after all these months, I still feel like someone is going to catch us together and I should feel guilty about it. But that was only the poison my mother whispered in my ear. This wicked prince was my husband and lover long before I remembered it.

And while I still can’t recall the day we first met—the first time we kissed, the first time we made love—I refuse to let my mother inhibit this moment. She stole my memories from me, but she won’t steal him.

Thiago laughs under his breath, as if my guilt flashes across my face. “Later,” he promises. And then he goes to answer the door.

Because the only reason someone would knock on the bedchamber of the Prince of Evernight when they know he’s with me is if something has happened.

“Tell me.” Thiago sinks into the enormous throne-like chair at the head of the table in his council chambers.

In this moment, he’s no longer merely my husband.

He’s the Prince of Evernight. The Lord of Whispers and Lies. The Master of Darkness. And the most dangerous male in the south. Clad in black leather like this, with only a hint of the darkened tattoos that ripple over his chest peeking out of the opening of his shirt, you could be forgiven for thinking of him as a mere warlord. But there’s something about the firm set of his shoulders and the regal tilt of his head that makes it clear he rules every inch of this castle.

There’s no sign of the dark wings that belong to his true form—he’s mastered the art of shifting between his Seelie and Unseelie forms so well that even I wouldn’t know they exist, if not for the fact that sometimes he’ll slip into his natural form when we’re in private.