“He was?” questioned Hawke, handing the strange bow to one of the men who’d appeared behind him.
“I do believe Phillips had begun to figure things out,” Kieran answered as he stared down at his stomach. The faint pink marks were already gone. “They were coming out of the room when I went up to check on her. She didn’t seem to believe whatever it was he’d told her, though.”
I hadn’t believed Phillips at all because I believed Hawke. I trusted him—trusted him with my life, and with…
There was a sudden pain in my chest that felt as if someone had shoved a dagger through me. I looked down because it felt too real, but there was no blade, no bloody wound that equaled the agony radiating through me. When I looked up, a muscle flexed in Hawke’s jaw.
“Well, he’s not going to be figuring anything out again.” Jericho gripped the bolt, tearing it free. Phillips slumped over. Jericho nudged the guard’s body with his boot. “That’s for sure.”
I turned back to Hawke, feeling as if the ground were splitting and shifting beneath me.
“You’re a Descenter.”
“A Descenter?” Elijah laughed deeply, causing me to jerk.
“And here I said you were smart,” Jericho said.
I ignored them. “You’re working against the Ascended.”
Another fissure formed in my chest. “You…you knew this…this thing that killed Rylan?”
“Thing?” chuffed Jericho. “I’m insulted.”
Hawke said nothing.
“That sounds like your problem, not mine.” I fully faced Hawke. “I thought the wolven were extinct.”
Hawke gave a casual shrug. “There are many things that you thought to be true that are not. However, while the wolven aren’t extinct, there aren’t many left.”
“Did you know he killed Rylan?” I shouted.
“I thought I could speed this up and grab you, but we know how that turned out,” Jericho chimed in.
My head snapped in Jericho’s direction. “Yes, I clearly remember how that turned out for you.”
His upper lip curled as a snarl of warning sent a wave of goosebumps through me.
“I knew he was going to create an opening,” Hawke answered, drawing my gaze back to him.
“For you…to become my personal Royal Guard?”
“I needed to get close to you.”
I sucked in a shuddering breath as my heart seemed to split open. “Well, you succeeded at that, didn’t you?”
That muscle in his jaw flexed again. “What you’re thinking…you could not be further from the truth.”
“You have no idea what I’m thinking,” I shot back, my hand tightening painfully around the dagger. “And all of this was…what? A trick? You were sent here to get close to me?”
Kieran’s brows lifted. “Sent—”
Hawke quieted him with a look, and Kieran rolled his eyes.
I knew what he was going to say. “You were sent by the Dark One.”
“I came to Masadonia with one goal in mind,” Hawke answered. “And that was you.”
I shuddered. “How? Why?”
“You’d be surprised how many of those close to you support Atlantia, who want to see the kingdom restored. Many who paved the way for me.”
“Commander Jansen?” I suspected.
“She is smart,” Hawke said. “Like I told you all.”
The backs of my eyes burned, along with my throat and chest. “Did you even work in the capital?” Then something hit me as my gaze darted to Kieran. “The night at the…” I couldn’t bring myself to say “the Red Pearl.”
“You knew who I was from the beginning.”
“I was watching you as long as you were watching me,” he said softly. “Even longer.”
That blow nearly killed me. It was like my chest had shattered. I started to turn away, but I saw Jericho, who’d created a space for Hawke to gain more personal, intimate access to me.
It clicked into place with a tremor that almost caused me to drop my dagger. “You…you were planning this for a while.”
“For a very long time.”
“Hannes.” My voice was thick, hoarse. “He didn’t die of a heart ailment, did he?”
“I do believe his heart did give out on him,” Hawke answered. “The poison he drank in his ale that night at the Red Pearl surely had something to do with it.”
The buzzing was almost too much. “Did a certain woman there help him with his drink? The same one that sent me upstairs?”
Hawke didn’t answer. Delano, on the other hand, said, “I feel like I’m missing vital pieces here.”
“I’ll fill you in later,” Kieran commented.
I was shaking. I could feel it. Just like I could feel the walls of the barn closing in on me. I was so incredibly naive. “Vikter?”
Hawke shook his head.
“Don’t lie to me!” I screamed. “Did you know there’d be an attack on the Rite? Is that why you disappeared? Why you weren’t there when Vikter was killed?”
The hollows of his cheeks became sharper. “What I know is that you’re upset. I don’t blame you, but I’ve also seen what happens when you get really angry,” he said, taking a step toward me, lifting his hands. “There is a lot I need to tell—”
The pain erupted out of me like it had the night of the Rite when I turned on Lord Mazeen. I had no control over myself. I moved out of instinct, cocking back my arm and throwing the dagger.
This time, I aimed for his chest.
Hawke let out a curse as he stepped to the side, snatching the dagger out of the air. Someone behind him let out a low whistle as Hawke whirled on me, the look of disbelief on his face almost comical. But in the back of my mind, I’d known he would catch it. All I’d needed was a distraction so I could dip down and pick up Phillips’ fallen sword. I swung out, aiming for the bastard who’d killed Rylan. Jericho jumped back, but he wasn’t entirely fast enough. I cut him again, across the stomach this time.
“Bitch,” Jericho cried out, clamping his remaining hand down on the gushing wound.
I spun just as someone crashed into me from one side and then the other. My arm was twisted around. Something hot sliced across my stomach as I reared back, using my attacker’s weight against them. They fell, arms still around me. I snapped my head, cracking my skull into their face. There was a yelp, and the hold loosened enough for me to tear free. I grabbed the sword from the straw and thrust it out blindly. I only saw a flicker of shock in the brown eyes of a male not too much older than me as he looked down. I yanked the sword free and spun, coming face to face with Hawke.
Like a complete idiot, I hesitated, even though I knew he was working for the Dark One. He was a Descenter. Because of him, so very many innocent people were dead. Hannes. Rylan. Loren. Dafina. Malessa—gods, had he killed her?
“That was very naughty,” Hawke chided, snatching the sword out of my hand as if I hadn’t been holding onto it. “You are so incredibly violent.” He dipped his chin and whispered, “It still turns me on.”
A scream of fury tore out of me as I jabbed my elbow out and up, snapping Hawke’s head back. “Dammit,” he said, coughing—no, laughing. He was laughing. “Didn’t change what I just said.”
I spun and started for the doors but skidded to a stop as Elijah appeared in front of me, having moved in a blink of an eye. He shook his head no, tsking softly under his breath.
Turning, I saw Kieran, who looked bored, and I whirled, seeing an opening between the poles. I took off—
Arms caught me around the waist, and I’d recognize the scent anywhere. Pine. Dark spice. Hawke. And the hard, earthen floor raced up toward my face. This was going to hurt. Bad.
The impact never came.
As agile as a cat, Hawke twisted so he took the brunt of the fall, but the landing still stunned me. For a moment, I couldn’t move.
“You’re welcome,” grunted Hawke.
Shrieking, I slammed the heel of my booted foot into his shin. His gasp of pain brought a savage smile to my face as I rolled, twisting until my stomach screamed in protest, but I was able to turn in his loosened hold. I straddled him—
Hawke grinned up at me, the dimple in his right cheek appearing. “I’m liking where this is headed.”
I punched him in the face, right in the godsdamn dimple. Pain lanced across my knuckles, but I drew my arm back.
Hawke caught my wrist and yanked me down until my body was almost flush with his. “You hit like you’re angry with me.”
I shifted, jamming my knee down between his legs and aiming for a very sensitive area. He anticipated the move, and my knee hit him in the thigh.
“That would’ve done some damage,” he told me.
“Good,” I growled.
“Now, now. You’d be disappointed later if I couldn’t use it.”
For a moment, I couldn’t believe he’d actually said that, but he had. He totally had. “I would rather cut it from your body.”
“Liar,” he whispered.
The sound that came from inside me would’ve scared me if it had come from anyone else. I jumped up, breaking his hold. I went to bring my foot down on his throat, but Hawke caught it and pulled. I went down, landing on my side. Pain flared, but I ignored it as I slammed my fist into his side.
“Damn,” Kieran drew the word out.
“Should we intervene?” Delano asked, sounding concerned.
“No,” Elijah answered with a chuckle. “This is the best thing I’ve seen in a while. Who would’ve thought the Maiden could throw down?”
“This is why you don’t mix business with pleasure,” Kieran commented.
“Is that the case?” Elijah whistled. “My money is on her then.”